Eugene Hasenfus, the American captured last October in Nicaragua while airlifting arms to the contras, charged yesterday that the State Department has reneged on pledges to ensure he would be repaid for expenses connected with his trial in Managua.
Hasenfus and his wife, Sally, estimate they incurred more than $30,000 in legal, travel, lodging and telephone bills while he was being detained and tried from October to December. They said their savings of $26,000 have shrunk to $600.
Sally Hasenfus, who visited her husband several times in Managua, said Elliott Abrams, the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, told her over the telephone, "Everything will be taken care of -- the tickets, your passport, a place to stay at the U.S. Embassy in Managua."
She said Abrams conveyed the impression that their expenses would be paid for while not explicitly saying so.
But she said Abrams' aide William Schofield "very specifically and repeatedly assured me they would get all our expenses paid for."
"Schofield said, 'Don't worry about the bills,' " Sally Hasenfus said in a telephone interview. " 'I'm in touch with Eugene's employer.' He also said they had hired a high-powered attorney to represent us."
Hasenfus added: "The State Department people who made promises to us didn't follow through."
A State Department spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said no department official ever discussed Sally Hasenfus' bills with her. "We weren't in a position to offer anything," the spokesman said.
Schofield, an aide in the State Department's Nicaraguan Coordination Office, said he talked a half-dozen times with Sally Hasenfus but said, "We never promised to pick up the tab or have someone else pick up the tab."
North wrote in a message that he had "located" $100,000 from a donor and that "RR" (apparently President Reagan) had been briefed about North's planned defense for Hasenfus, according to the Tower Commission report on the Iran-Contra affair.
In this Oct. 12 note to former national security adviser Robert McFarlane, North said "a high-powered lawyer" was needed to prevent the Hasenfuses from becoming "pawns of the Sandinista propaganda machine" and head off questions about the "origins" of the Contra air operation, the February report said.
The spokesman said he did not know what had become of North's fund. The Hasenfuses said they had not received any money from such a fund though the couple had got between $7,000 and $8,000 from an account established for the family in Wisconsin.
Mrs. Hasenfus said no State Department official had ever made reference to an administration fund.
Hasenfus, who lives with his wife and three children in Marinette, Wis., said he thought his employer was obligated to cover their expenses, which he described as "an outgrowth of the risks of the job."
Hasenfus, a crew member in the El Salvador network that flew weapons to the Contras, was paid $3,000 a month by Corporate Air Services. Managers of this network have testified that Corporate Air was a front company set up to conceal the sponsorship of the operation by the White House and retired Maj. Gen. Richard Secord.
Hasenfus said he has spoken three times recently with retired Col. Robert Dutton, an associate of Secord, in an attempt to obtain compensation but was told the $8 million in Secord's accounts had been frozen.
Hasenfus was captured Oct. 6 and sentenced by a Nicaraguan tribunal to 30 years in prison for terrorism. He was pardoned Dec. 17 and released.
His wife said she was particularly galled when the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua billed them $1,500 for her stay there during Eugene's trial since Schofield had assured her the State Department would cover these expenses.
Schofield denied ever telling Mrs. Hasenfus that she would not have to pay for her embassy stay.
But the State Department spokesman said it was "not proper" for her to have been charged for her embassy lodging. "Everyone here is kind of surprised," he said.
Hasenfus' attorney, Ernest Pleger, said he and former Attorney General Griffin Bell had defended Hasenfus for free but charged him $24,000 for their travel, hotel and telephone expenses. Mrs. Hasenfus said she also had incurred more than $2,500 in travel costs during her visits to Nicaragua.END NOTES