Jailed Iran/Contra Whistleblower Claims U.S. Prosecutor "Lied to Judge"
Cele Castillo Contends Proof of Deception is Now in the Court Record
Former DEA agent Celerino “Cele” Castillo III has filed a “section 2255” habeas corpus appeal in federal court in San Antonio, Texas, alleging that he is the victim of prosecutorial misconduct and asking that the judge set aside his sentence for dealing firearms without a license.
Castillo is currently serving a 37-month stint in the La Tuna Federal Prison Camp in Anthony, N.M., after being convicted in October 2008 on the gun-dealing charges. Ever since his arrest in early March 2008, Castillo’s case has been full of twists and turns, including allegations that his attorney provided ineffective legal representation, a charge also raised in the 2255 pleadings.
Narco News has written extensively about Castillo’s case, and the conduct of his attorney -- who had his law license suspended in the wake of allegations that he misappropriated clients’ money. [Those stories can be found at this link.]
Castillo now contends evidence recently placed in the court record as part of his 2255 appeal shows that the prosecutor in his case, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Roomberg, committed a fraud on the court — which resulted in Castillo receiving a stiffer sentence from the judge.
From Castillo’s 2255 pleadings:
On June 26, 2008, a debriefing was conducted, with the approval of the individual who purchased [many of] the weapons in question [in Castillo’s firearms dealings]. This individual stated that he was not a prohibited person [such as a convicted felon] and that there was nothing the government could do to him. In said debriefing notes [written by Castillo’s attorney about the debriefing, attended by AUSA Roomberg] it indicated the individual’s [full] name and nickname. Mr. Roomberg made several MapQuest copies from his computer as to where this individual lived.
However, at a sentencing hearing in October 2008, Roomberg told the judge that Castillo only provided a “nickname” and a “general area” as to where this individual lived, adding that it was not useful information, Castillo’s 2255 pleadings assert.
In the government’s initial response to Castillo’s 2255 filing, Roomberg also states that Castillo “could only provide the vaguest information regarding the purchasers of the firearms and none of the information could be verified or corroborated.”
Castillo, in his 2255 pleadings, alleges that notes taken by his attorney at the June 28, 2008, debriefing and other e-mail correspondence demonstrate that Roomberg was not being honest with the court.
From an e-mail dated Feb. 2, 2009, penned by Castillo’s attorney, Eddie De La Garza, and now included in the court record:
I recall during the briefing you advised of your dealings with Manuel. You gave them [the government] directions to his house behind the high school in McAllen. You agreed to show them the residence and you also pointed the location out on a computer-generated map. You advised of the deputy from Starr County and that Sheriff … from Hidalgo County received weapons [legal transactions]. … You also showed them an incoming call from Manuel during the debrief. … You advised about an ATF agent in the Valley who gives information [to] …. You advised about your clients and denied [selling] weapons to Mexico. … Later I received a call from Roomberg that they were not going to work with you because you were attacking them in the press [referring, it seems, to the coverage of Castillo’s case by Narco News].
Castillo contends that he has been unjustly targeted by the government due to his past whistleblowing activity. He argues he is now serving time for a crime (selling firearms without a permit) that essentially made a federal case out his gun-trading hobby — stressing that he never sold guns to prohibited individuals (i.e., convicted felons) and the government concedes it has no evidence to that effect.
Castillo made it clear to the judge in his case during testimony at an Oct. 1, 2008, court hearing that he believed there was a bull’s-eye painted on his back due to his role as a whistleblower in the Iran/Contra scandal.
From the transcript of that Oct. 1 hearing:
One of the major problems I had with the government was that I got involved or initiated the Iran/Contra investigation back at that time in El Salvador, in Guatemala, with Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and I started reporting the incidents of drug trafficking and arms smuggling by several branches of our government. …
Castillo, while a DEA agent in Central America in the 1980s, during the Reagan/Bush administration, uncovered evidence that the CIA and the White House National Security Council, through San Antonio, Texas, native and national counter-terrorism coordinator Lt. Col. Oliver North and other CIA assets, were carrying out illegal operations at two hangers at Ilopango Airport in El Salvador. Those airport hangars, Castillo contends, served as weapons and narcotics transshipment centers for funding and arming the U.S.-backed Contra counter-insurgency against the government of Nicaragua.
Castillo subsequently, after a 12-year career, retired from the DEA, but to this day he has remained an outspoken critic of the hypocrisy of the war on drugs, penning a book about his experiences in DEA, called Powderburns, and appearing in recent years on numerous radio and TV shows.
Castillo, a decorated Vietnam veteran, had no criminal record prior to his conviction in 2008 on firearms-related charges. In the wake of that conviction, secured, Castillo contends, through a misleading plea deal, he lost his DEA and other benefits — even though he claims his attorney and the prosecutor promised that if he pled out he would retain those benefits.
Despite prosecutor Roomberg’s representations to the court that Castillo provided the government with only the “vaguest” information as to the identity of the primary purchasers of the guns, the attorney’s notes from the government's debriefing of Castillo, which were recently made part of the court record, appear to reveal quite the opposite.
Following is a sampling of the entries in those notes, which were penned by Castillo’s attorney, De La Garza, and dated June 26, 2008 — some four months after Castillo’s arrest and more than a year prior to him reporting to jail to begin serving his sentence in July 2009:
1. [Castillo] briefed as to ground rules.
2. Manuel Tijerina “Meme” [the name of the individual, not a prohibited person, to whom Castillo sold many of his guns]
… 7. Sheriff … received gun.
… 16. Iraqi vets - to Mexico – firefight.
… 17. Found out from Tijerina that men being trained at his Ranch north of Edinburg for para-military operations.
… 19. Can point out his house near Memorial.
… 26 [Castillo] using MapQuest pointed out Meme’s two houses across from Memorial football practice field.
27. Meme also says he also has a DEA & ICE agent on payroll.
Agents and AUSA [Assistant U.S. Attorney] agreed to give [Castillo] credit for substantial assistance….
The attorney’s notes contain far more information (all allegations, to be clear) that seem to show Castillo did provide complete names and usable information, despite Roomberg’s claims before the court to the contrary. Castillo also contends in the pleadings that he had Tijerina’s permission to share the information with Roomberg — likely an indication in Castillo’s mind that Tijerina knew the government was already aware of the allegations, or that Tijerina was somehow immune from a successful prosecution. (Castillo, in prior interviews, told Narco News that much of what he learned about Tijerina came to light late in the game — after Castillo was arrested and began to investigate his own case).
In fact, Tijerina, a nightclub owner in the Texas border city of McAllen, in April of last year was arrested on charges accusing him of engaging in multiple, illegal straw gun purchases. Under U.S. law, an individual purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer must fill out a form swearing to the fact that he or she is the true purchaser of the weapon. The purpose of the rule is to prevent “straw” transactions where the purchaser later provides the weapon to a “prohibited person” — such as a convicted felon.
According to a search of court records for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Tijerina was indicted on cocaine trafficking charges (conspiracy to possess with intent to deliver more than five kilograms) in late 1990. However, the case against him was dismissed in March 1992.
In the still-pending gun case, a second superceding indictment was returned against Tijerina [full name Manuel “Meme” Tijerina-Herrera] in January of this year that upped the number of individuals involved in the alleged straw-purchase conspiracy to six. However, at this point, it is not clear whether any of those individuals are deemed prohibited persons for the purposes of federal firearms law. If they are not prohibited persons, then it is possible, under a precedent known as United States v. Polk, that the current charges might also ultimately be dismissed.
(In fact, under that very same legal precedent, the original charges and plea deal in Castillo’s case had to be thrown out. That’s what led to the new charges of dealing guns absent a permit and a second plea deal in his case, which Castillo was presented with and required to accept, in the courtroom, on the same day that the original bogus charges were dismissed. Castillo’s attorney, whose son was also facing similar gun charges in federal court, advised him to accept the second plea deal, contending he would face even more severe charges if he chose to fight the government.)
Castillo argues in is 2255 pleadings that the notes from the debriefing and Tijerina's subsequent arrest on gun charges are evidence that Roomberg mislead the court.
"The individual in question [Tijerina] was arrested by ATF in [April] of 2010, for straw purchases, completely unrelated to my case," Castillo argues in his appeal. "... If the court will check in the ATF computers, it will reveal the truth of my allegations against the government."
More from Castillo’s 2255 pleadings:
In the sentencing transcripts, Page 27; Line 11: “We would love to know who these people were [to whom Castillo had sold guns]; we would love to have had Mr. Castillo tell us more than just a nickname and a general area where this person lived. He did not. And if he is dealing all these firearms with this person and can’t give us more than a nickname, then I don’t know how he identified that person.”
Note: Once again Roomberg [who made the statement above in court] lied to the judge. The individual [Tijerina] in question was [fully] identified by name and there are several entries in the notes about him, including where he resided. And phone numbers. Roomberg used his computer to make a MapQuest of the individual’s [residence]. The proof is in De La Garza’s notes and his emails.
Narco News did attempt to contact Tijerina’s attorney for comment, as well as Castillo’s former attorney, De La Garza, and U.S. prosecutor Roomberg. None of them returned phone calls.
Castillo, in his 2255 pleadings, which he prepared pro se (acting as his own attorney), states that he did report the alleged misconduct by the prosecutor in his case to the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
OPR provided Castillo with the following response on Aug. 28, 2009:
We are in receipt of your July 8, 2009 letter concerning an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Texas. The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) is responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct involving Department of Justice attorneys that relate to the exercise of their authority to investigate, litigate or provide legal advice…. We are reviewing your complaint and will advise you of the results when we have completed this review. …
“OPR never once contacted the witnesses nor myself in regards to my allegations,” Castillo contends in his pleadings.
Castillo also contends in his 2255 pleadings that Roomberg, government agents and his own attorney engaged in other sleights of hand with respect to the facts in his case that led him to accept a highly flawed plea deal based on bogus charges that resulted in an unusually harsh prison sentence.
The government contends Castillo’s claims are without merit.
Again, Narco News has written previously about most of those allegations [see link], including the government’s efforts to paint Castillo as a dangerous criminal engaged in selling guns illegally into Mexico. In fact, the magistrate who signed the criminal complaint against Castillo refused to authorize charges that he was engaged in gun sales to Mexico because of the lack of evidence.
In addition, the government concedes it has no such evidence, just a suspicion — pointing to three guns found in Mexico that it claims are somehow connected to Castillo — two of which have serial numbers not found among the list of guns contained in the indictment against Castillo and a third that has been presented as two different weapons (initially as a FN PS90 rifle and then as a FS2000 rifle) in the government’s case.
Roomberg, in his reply for the government to Castillo’s 2255 allegations, states the following:
For all of the Defendant's [Castillo’s] meritless claims made with unsupported allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, he fails to set forth a basis to claim prosecutorial misconduct or how his constitutional rights following two knowing and voluntary guilty pleas [the first had to be tossed out by the government because the underlying charges were deemed bogus] were somehow violated.
Castillo, for his part, claims a great fraud has been perpetrated on the justice system to assure his conviction — as payback for his blowing the whistle on government corruption.
In a letter written to the federal judge in his case and included in the record of his 2255 appeal, Castillo writes:
I believe that there is a good possibility that the court will once again rule against me, but that is not to say that I have given up on the Judicial System, yet. However, I truly believe that Honor and Integrity are at their twilight in our Judicial System.
Another reason is the fact that AUSA Mark Roomberg and four of the main agents that were involved in my case … have committed some heinous crimes by [wandering] off the reservation. The crux of their problems is that they [have been] living by a [double] standard for so long that they think lying was their birthright. They represent the core of what is wrong with the system. The real threat facing America is within because of the corrupt self-serving federal prosecutors and rogue agents. If this continues, the most powerful country in the world will go the way of Rome.
The judge has yet to rule on Castillo’s appeal.
See prior Narco News’ coverage of this case at these links: