Back in east-central Arkansas he was known as Gary Wayne Betzner, a civic activist, Mason, Shriner and president of the local Jaycee chapter. He was active in politics as well, once serving as the county chairman for Sen. Dale L. Bumpers (D-Ark.) and another time for Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller (R).
The switch wasn't hard to explain. "My views in those days were somewhere to the right of the John Birch Society," he said with a soft laugh.
But in South Florida, the same slender man with the mustache and understated manner had another name and another occupation. He was Lucas Harmony, a name he picked for himself to cloak his other life as a drug pilot, shuttling planes crammed with marijuana and duffel bags choked with cocaine from Central America into Florida.
The career, he matter-of-factly told the Senate subcommittee on terrorism, narcotics and international operations yesterday, was a fairly simple one. His background as a crop-duster in Arkansas had given him "the best" training possible for flying in and out of tight spaces and his Navy training in antisubmarine warfare had taught him how to fly around and under the government's radar surveillance in South Florida.
"I made it a science . . . . All you needed to do was to be able to fly below the horizon, below the radars and come up in the blind spots between the radars," Betzner said as he recounted how he routinely eluded Drug Enforcement Administration aircraft near Miami. Once, when two planes appeared to give chase, his evasion was simple: "I went between the condominiums and flew down along the waterway" to a nearby airport.
When his plane, painted dark green to prevent detection, ran low on fuel on a drug run and had to zig-zag across Cuba, two MiG19s were sent up to check on him. Betzner said he did a barrel roll and slipped into a cloud bank and eluded the planes, flying low and often through mountain valleys. Later he got a transponder code that allowed him to fly over the communist island without fear of being bothered.
As Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), himself a pilot, listened in fascination, Betzner, 47, and the father of five children, spelled out details of how flying drugs made him twice a millionaire, making 50 flights at $40,000 each over 18 months. It was a career that ended with his conviction two years ago on drug conspiracy charges and his sentence to 27 years and two months in prison.
And it was a career that Betzner said he tried to end when he feared drug agents were after him. "It was too risky," Betzner said he decided after he lost a planeload of marijuana when Florida police arrested a driver carrying a load of drugs from the airport. When he heard that, Betzner said, "I packed my bags and locked the door and left" his Florida house.
He went to Hawaii, but returned to Miami three months later when a drug trafficker for whom he had worked was arrested. The colleague, Colombian native George Morales, pleaded for help, saying if Betzner would help him fly arms to the contra rebels fighting the Sandinista government of Nicaragua there was chance he could use contacts with Central Intelligence Agency officials to work a plea bargain.
"I didn't want to do it, but I love and trusted George," Betzner said. "He took me in when I was, well, like an orphan."
It is sometimes that way in the drug trade, Betzner said. "It's not like business where you have a contract . . . . In our business your word is your bond."
To Betzner, Morales and the others who testified yesterday, drug smuggling was just that: a business with so much cash that it proved what Kerry said was an irresistible lure for the contras. When they became desperate for funds, they turned, perhaps naturally, to the biggest supplier of ready cash in Central America.
The contras were a natural ally of many of the drug merchants, Kerry said. Most of the traffickers were staunchly anticommunist and believed that there was no higher priority than overturning the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. "It's strictly a capitalists' movement, this drug business," Betzner said.
Morales, also serving time in a federal prison on drug charges, testified yesterday that he had given between $4 million and $5 million, virtually all of it from drug sales, and some of his drug-smuggling aircraft to organizations supporting the contras. Morales, wearing a finely tailored blue suit, also paid tribute to Betzner, calling him "the best" of the 30 pilots who flew his fleet of 15 aircraft.
At times the link between the contras and the drug smuggling was open, both Betzner and Morales said. They recounted two flights that Betzner made into Costa Rica and landed near the ranch of John Hull, an American who has acknowledged supporting the contras and who has been alleged to have been a CIA employee.
Betzner said Hull watched silently as a load of machine guns and explosives he flew to the ranch was unloaded and replaced by 17 duffel bags and five or six boxes filled with cocaine. Hull met a second flight on a strip near Voice of America radio transmitting towers near his ranch, a flight that exchanged small arms and land mines for between 15 to 17 duffel bags of cocaine, Betzner said.
Hull has been subpoenaed by Kerry's subcommittee for eight months, but the senator said he has no certainty that Hull will testify.
Morales, a world champion speedboat racer, had testified previously before Kerry's subcommittee and his testimony about ties to the contras and drug dealing followed the outlines of his earlier statements.
Betzner told of bribing officials in the Bahamas for permission to land drugs there and then arranging to drop marijuana to waiting boats offshore when the island officials sought bigger bribes.