Ex-CIA agent sentenced in Iran-contra scheme

December 14, 1990|By M. Dion Thompson

Thomas G. Clines, the former CIA agent who located arms supplies during the Iran-contra scheme, was sentenced yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to 16 months in prison and ordered to pay a $40,000 fine and the cost of his prosecution.

Only Oliver L. North, sentenced to three years on a conviction that has since been overturned, received a stiffer penalty in connection with the arms-for-hostages scheme. But unlike Mr. North, Clines, 62, was convicted of tax charges. In September, a federal jury convicted him of underreporting his earnings in 1985 and 1986 and falsely stating on his tax forms for those years that he had no foreign financial accounts.

"No one is above the law," said Judge Norman P. Ramsey. "It only matters if you obeyed the law or did not obey the law. The ability to decide you will ignore a certain law is devastating."

Stuart E. Abrams, associate counsel for the Office of the Independent Counsel, said Clines used the operation's secrecy to "line his pockets." Clines made nearly $1 million from the operation but only reported earning about $670,000 in 1985 and 1986.

"This is not a case about misplaced patriotism," said Mr. Abrams. "This is purely about greed."

Clines saw it differently. The barrel-chested, white-haired veteran of the Cold War told Judge Ramsey that his was a life dedicated to public service and that when his country called out for help, he answered. Clines became involved in the scheme at the request of his old friend, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Richard V. Secord.

During the time of his involvement, Clines, a veteran of the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, used his extensive contacts in Eastern and Western Europe to procure the rifles, hand grenades, shoulder-held surface-to-air missiles and ammunition that were later sold to the Nicaraguan contras at markups of 20 percent to 30 percent.

"I grew up in World War II, and I've seen the effect dictators have on world affairs," said Clines, reading from a prepared statement. "For 40 years I've demonstrated that I will accept any mission to preserve our American liberty and values. I have fought our enemies all over this world, risking my life many times. . . .

"During '85 and '86, our government called on me again to assist in the Iran-contra project. . . . For this effort I've paid a heavy price. Since 1986, I have not been able to earn a dime."

His attorney, Paula M. Junghans, concurred with her client's statements about his financial affairs. She said he had spent a fortune on lawyers and litigation. He was not a wealthy man, she said. And his only crimes were not being careful enough and not taking the time to accurately report his earnings.

"He spent the better part of his life serving this government, and that's worth something, your honor," she said. "Sure, he saw an opportunity to make money. He needed to make money. But he also saw an opportunity to support a cause."

Judge Ramsey was not moved by allusions to Clines' patriotism, or explanations that Clines had merely made some poor business decisions. His main concern, he said, was that Clines deliberately violated the tax laws.

In addition to ordering Clines to pay a special assessment fee of $200, Judge Ramsey also ordered him to surrender to federal marshals on Jan. 28. Ms. Junghans said she will file a request that he remain free until he exhausts his appeals.

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