Charles C. Thompson II is a network news veteran, both as a founding producer of ABC's "20/20" and as Mike Wallace's producer at
CBS's "60 Minutes."
An experienced print journalist, Tony Hays' recent 20-part series on narcotics trafficking received an award from the Tennessee Press Association.More ↓Less ↑
Editor’s note: For Al Gore’s presidential campaign, the
all-important mission of distancing its candidate from what is arguably
the most corrupt administration in U.S. history — in which Gore has
served for eight years as the No. 2 man — has not been easy. Yet, until
last week, the carefully choreographed campaign seemed to be succeeding,
according to polls.
Then the story broke, carried by most of the major media, that
Gore was linked to the solicitation of a $100,000 bribe in 1995 in exchange for a presidential veto. Gore’s carefully cultivated “squeaky-clean” image began to fade, as memories of campaign finance violations — the Buddhist Temple, the “iced tea” defense, FBI assertions that the vice president was lying — threatened to flood back into the public mind.
Now come new revelations. Following is Part 1 of an exclusive three-part WorldNetDaily series on Gore’s highly controversial relationships and actions in his home state of Tennessee.
The articles were researched and written by native Tennessean reporters Charles C. Thompson II and Tony Hays. Thompson is a long-time veteran of network news, having been a founding producer of ABC’s “20/20,” as well as Mike Wallace’s producer at CBS’ “60 Minutes.” His most recent book,
“A Glimpse of Hell: The Explosion on the U.S.S.
Iowa and Its Cover-Up,” was released by W.W. Norton in Spring 1999. Hays is an experienced journalist who has written extensively on political corruption in Tennessee. Recently his 20-part series on narcotics trafficking received an award from the Tennessee Press Association.
Parts 2 and 3 will be published in tomorrow’s and Wednesday’s editions of WorldNetDaily.
SAVANNAH, Tenn. — Vice President Al Gore’s uncle and confidant, retired judge Whit LaFon, has been targeted as an alleged drug trafficker by federal and state law enforcement officials in Tennessee.
The allegations arose out of a year-long investigation that included elements of the FBI, the inspector general’s office at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the 24th Judicial District Drug Task Force and the Tennessee Highway Patrol. According to federal agents, LaFon’s alleged connection may stretch from providing protection to narcotics traffickers to the use of his Tennessee River cabin in southern Decatur County, a place often visited by the vice president and his family.
Since those allegations were first detailed last Tuesday in an Accuracy in Media report titled
“Al Gore’s embarrassing uncle,” LaFon, 82, has gone into seclusion.
That report, which focuses on a reported connection to a narcotics trafficking scheme, also included allegations of desecration of protected Native American burial mounds, a record of overt racism and a cover-up following the death of 91-year-old Beulah Mae Holmes in 1989.
A spry, mentally acute octogenarian, LaFon has been one of Gore’s key counselors for decades. Although in an April interview LaFon attempted to downplay his relationship with Gore, he recently bragged to the Sun newspaper of Jackson, Tennessee, that Gore was a frequent visitor to both his Jackson home and the Decatur County cabin where the alleged drug trafficking is headquartered. The LaFon family joined the Gore family in a special skybox during the recent Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles.
As media attention increases, more details of the narcotics investigation are emerging.
The LaFon connection resulted from an inquiry into Savannah, Tenn., Chancery Court Judge Ron Harmon by the public integrity section of the U.S. Justice Department nearly a year ago. Harmon, who has been under federal, state and local scrutiny for nearly two decades, has been a partner in a ring of three trucking companies alleged to have transported narcotics and illegal aliens. One company is based in Stantonville, Tenn., near Harmon’s home base of Savannah. Another facility was located in Clint, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexican border and managed by Glenn H. Gray, a convicted felon. The third company, which Harmon says he sold earlier this year, was situated in Klamath Falls, Oregon.
A former law officer allegedly took witnesses with direct knowledge of the scheme to the Justice Department, after which a probe was launched. As the investigation developed, agents sought to trace a stream of hundreds of thousands of dollars pouring out of Savannah, Tenn., via Western Union moneygrams.
Then in late January, federal agents met with local law enforcement officers and first named LaFon as a potential target along with Harmon.
If money was flowing out, the officers reasoned, a product had to be coming in. They subpoenaed delivery records from Federal Express, Airborne Express, United Parcel Service and other package carriers attempting to determine a pattern of shipments. They couldn’t.
Attention was then drawn to LaFon’s cabin at Swallow Bluff on the Tennessee River just north of Hardin County, and to Harmon’s trucking operations. Local officers who had been investigating LaFon and the alleged weekly airplane landings on the river below his cabin for nearly five years detailed their findings for the federal agents. An over-flight of the region was ordered and, according to eyewitnesses, was flown by a Navy Orion P-3 surveillance aircraft modified for such work.
This flight, like the existence of the investigation and LaFon’s status in it, was originally confirmed by then-Jackson, Tenn., FBI Special Agent Mark Post, who was transferred to Washington last week almost immediately after the AIM report was released. In a never-released interview with WBBJ-TV in Jackson just prior to his transfer, Post back-pedaled on his earlier statements, but documentation and eyewitnesses cast serious doubts on his rebuttal.
The federal Drug Enforcement Agency has, at least until recently, been running its own probe into Harmon’s trucking operations. It is not known whether LaFon has been targeted in that probe as well, but U.S. Customs sources have confirmed that they’ve been aware of the airplane landings on the river for a number of years and have attempted to conduct their own investigation. When asked about Customs’ involvement in such a probe, Post remarked, “They don’t cooperate with us.”
In the 1970s, when LaFon was a state prosecutor, and in the 1980s, when he was a judge, federal authorities investigated him for allegedly taking bribes and being involved in criminal enterprises when he was a public official, according to a senior federal prosecutor. No charges were ever filed, however.
Normally accessible to the press, LaFon has been besieged by calls but has refused to say anything. Although the Gore camp has attempted to mount a defense against the drug allegations, they conspicuously have not responded to the charges of overt racism, desecration of burial mounds and the strange circumstances surrounding the death of Beulah Mae Holmes.
Contrary to Gore’s recent statements that his family, including his parents’ generation, was markedly anti-racist, LaFon is well known throughout west Tennessee as an “overt racist,” according to former state public defender Marcus Reaves. LaFon was officially chastised on at least one occasion for making racist comments during a court hearing and then ordering the court reporter not to release the transcript.
Even more controversial was the apparent preferential treatment LaFon received when his pickup truck struck a 91-year-old Henderson County, Tenn., woman, Beulah Mae Holmes. Holmes was killed instantly. But Tennessee Highway Patrol officials ignored virtually every state policy involving traffic fatalities. Attempts to obtain copies of what should have been a lengthy file from the Tennessee Highway Patrol resulted in three pages of an accident report. One THP source, who was working in the Jackson District Office at the time, said, “There was never a file on that case; there was never going to be a file.”
Only through the offices of Madison County District Attorney General Jerry Woodall was WorldNetDaily able to obtain anything resembling a complete file. Woodall, in responding to a Tennessee Open Records Act request, gathered remnants of the file from his own and other agencies. Although Woodall was the prosecutor at the time of the accident, he was emphatic that he opted not to pursue prosecution based on “the file THP presented to me.” That file showed that a complete toxicological screening as required by law was not performed. Without forensic evidence that LaFon was intoxicated or otherwise under the influence at the time, Woodall’s hands were tied.
Rearing its ugly head again for Gore and LaFon is the specter of Swallow Bluff Island and its remnants of an 800-year-old Native American village. Like LaFon, the developers, who purchased the island from Gore’s uncle and now face a quarter million dollars in fines and damages by the state of Tennessee, have gone into seclusion and refuse to talk to reporters.
But it was developer Larry Melton who accuses LaFon of promising Gore’s assistance in bypassing and evading federal and state erosion control and grave desecration statutes. Indeed, this pattern of behavior is becoming more and more apparent as citizens in the Hardin County area recall situations where Tennessee Valley Authority regulations/restrictions seemed to exist for some, but not for others — those others being friends and supporters of Al Gore and his close friend and national finance chairman, former TVA Director Johnny Hayes.
As publicity on all these matters increases, observers in Tennessee are noting movement on several fronts.
Harmon, according to local sources, is selling off sizable pieces of his extensive land and development holdings and demanding cash settlements within mere days. Glenn H. Gray, once the manager of the Clint, Texas, trucking operation, has reappeared in Tennessee seeking new business opportunities.
Other law enforcement officials, such as Steve Lee, director of the 24th Judicial District Task Force, whose officers assisted the federal agents in the narcotics probe, at first denied any knowledge of such a probe to WBBJ-TV reporters. But Lee later recanted, admitting he had attended the January meeting at which LaFon’s name was first mentioned, but denied that he had heard Gore’s uncle referred to at all.
FBI supervisor Mark Post first told friends about his transfer just two weeks ago. They described his reaction as peculiar, and said, “he obviously wasn’t thrilled, and he indicated that it was something he didn’t have a lot of choice about.” Post becomes the second agent connected to the LaFon investigation to be transferred to Washington. Tom Locke, the former special agent in charge in Memphis, who, according to local officers was a driving force behind the investigation, was switched to FBI headquarters after less than a year in the Memphis post.
TOMORROW: According to a senior official with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the state’s premier law-enforcement agency, Vice President Al Gore routinely contacted his longtime friend and supporter TBI Director Larry Wallace for assistance with criminal matters involving Gore’s family and political cronies.