Government witness Gerald Olson, testifying against three militiamembers from Fairbanks in a federal courtroom, spent his last daybefore jurors Wednesday trying to withstand a triple onslaught bydefense attorneys looking to discredit him. He'd already admittedunder direct testimony for the prosecution that he had a criminalpast spanning two decades, beginning when he was a rebellioussixteen-year-old who distanced himself from his deeply religiousparents by rubbing elbows with the wrong crowd. But Nelson Traverso, Tim Dooley and Rich Curtner, attorneys forindicted Alaska Peacemakers Militia members Schaeffer Cox, ColemanBarney and Lonnie Vernon, worked to drive the point home evenfurther. With a long history of drug running and duping people outtheir money, why should jurors believe Olson now? Olson had already shown the lengths he was willing to go to to pullin extra cash: shuttling the drug crank, known also as gofast or speed -- a precursor to today's more potentmethamphetamine -- for the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang, bringingcocaine and marijuana into the state from Washington state, takingpeople's money for work building cabins, selling logs, or buildingseptic systems that he never completed, stealing a tractor. It was a lucrative calling. |
He'd pulled in $140,000 - $170,000 overthe years while enmeshed in the underworld of drugs. But Curtnerpointed out that Olson's current career path -- the one in which heabruptly returned to the long lost family values of his childhoodand decided to become an informant -- might be an even biggerfinancial score. You hope to make more money as a paid informant than as a drugdealer or a drug smuggler or any business you had, Curtner askedduring cross-examination. Is that right? I hope to, Olson answered. For his work on the militia case,the FBI had already given Olson $77,000 to help cover basicexpenses and move his wife and children out of Alaska.
Asked howmuch he still hoped to earn for his services during the case, Olsontold Curtner he'd go high. If he ever found himself negotiatinga fee with the FBI, $300,000 would be his opening bid, he said. It wasn't until the FBI decided the case was getting serious anddangerous enough that Olson and his family needed to go intowitness protection that it occurred to Olson that he might be ableto draw an income from his undercover mission. The agency gave himfunds to facilitate his relocation out of state, and suggestedother compensation might be available. Up until that point there was no thought in my mind of gettingpaid.
Only hopes of avoiding jail time, said Olson, who didsuccessfully avoid jail time on his second felony convictionbecause of his work on the case. A 'mad scramble' on day of arrests The defense team grilling came after prosecutors concluded theirtime with Olson by showing jurors video of the moments leading upto the arrest of Cox, Coleman, Vernon and Karen Vernon, LonnieVernon's wife. Several video and audio recorders hidden in Olson sF-150 pickup truck and on his person captured the moments leadingup to the arrests. On that cold, clear winter morning in Fairbanks, the largest cityin Alaska's interior, Olson arranged to meet the four targets inseparate groups of two. It was March 11, 2011.
Snow blanketed theground, blue skies hung overhead. He made plans to meet up underthe ruse of selling them pistols with silencers and live grenades. In video clips showing three separate camera angles simultaneously,jurors watched as Olson met with the defendants in his truck toexchange the weapons for cash. Given that molded plastic gratingobstructed some of the view on two of the video feeds, it appearsthe FBI hid the cameras behind dashboard air vents in Olson'struck. One pointed at the front passenger seat, the other was awider angle revealing the front and backseats.
The third video viewwas captured from a camera hidden somewhere on Olson's body. Itshowed more of the lower body portion of the front passenger seatthan the other two feeds, which focused more on the upper body --heads and shoulders.
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