Government Painted as Drug Boss
As Written in the Tallahassee Democrat
The government dreamed up and financed a multi-million dollar marijuana smuggling operation and then enticed into it nine defendants now on trial in the Sandy Creek pot smuggling case, defense attorneys said Thursday.
"My clients were part of a government operation to raise a large profit," said one defense attorney during opening statements in the first day of testimony in the case in U.S. District Court here.
Defense attorney Ed Marger, left, leaves court and David Lukefahr, center, and W.L. Kinchen accompany him
Another defense lawyer said he will show that his client was "entrapped" by Bobby Vines, who the lawyer claims was an "agent and informant for the FBI."
But Don Modesitt, assistant United States attorney and prosecutor in the case, said he was going to prove that the nine conspired to import marijuana. He said he was going to show how each of the defendants had his own task to perform in the smuggling operation.
He said the organization was "just like a corporation or a business. Each plays his own part in the operation." He said that Vines misled and refused to cooperate with law enforcement authorities rather than being an informant or agent.
The nine men on trial in the case are Walter G. Steinhorst, 47, of Live Oak, Lloyd Andrew Woods, 25, of Orlando (formerly of Perry); David M. Goodwin ,30, of Meritt Island; his brother, Christopher D. Goodwin, 25, of Panama City; Thomas J Lukefahr, 32, of Jacksonville; David L. Lukefahr, 42, of St. Petersburg; Steven D. Lukefahr, 28, of St. Petersburg; David F. Capo, 29, of Cortez; and Peter Van Slykes Estrup, 36, of Bradenton.
Steinhorst and David Goodwin also are charged with the murder of George Sims, 39, Douglas Gene Hood, 21, Sheila McAdams, 16 and her 14-year-old sister Sandy, whose bodies were found this summer in Watering Hole sink, in Taylor County.
The four victims apparently stumbled on the marijuana smuggling operation while the pot was being hauled ashore on Jan 23, 1997.
After opening statements, William Epperson Jr., 35, of Tallahassee, who pleaded guilty and turned state's evidence in the smuggling case, was the government's first witness. He identified eight of the nine defendants and told how he and several others attempted to unload more than 20,000 pounds of marijuana from the shrimp boat, Gunsmoke.
Federal Protection Service guards were placed at the bottom of the stairway leading to the courtroom in the Park Avenue post office. They questioned those going to the trial to see if they were carrying cameras or weapons.
The freshly painted and refinished courtroom was crowded with about 40 spectators. The defendants table was so crowded with lawyers the defendants were forced to sit against the wall looking down on Park Avenue.
When the lawyers approached Judge William Stafford's bench for private talks, it resembled a huddle on a football field rather than a meeting of judicial minds.
Edwin Marger, an Atlanta lawyer defending the Lukefahr brothers and noted for defense work in drug cases, paced before the jury box as he delivered his opening statement. He said the government lured his clients into the drug smuggling operation.
He said he would show that Bobby Vines, a former Tallahassee bar manager originally charged with the sink hole murders, organized the urged the smuggling operation as an agent and informant for the FBI. He said Vines had daily contact with FBI agent Donald Baldwin.
He said he would prove that Baldwin used federal funds "to get a big bust for the FBI."
He also hinted that Baldwin might have had other motives, saying "Baldwin had an intimate relationship with the wife of Bobby Vines."
When asked later if he was going to prove Baldwin had an "amorous relationship" with Vines' wife, Marger said yes.
Marger also said Baldwin was going to take a $10,000 bribe from Vines. Marger charged that the agent would have taken the bribe if Vines had not been issued a witness subpoena the day the exchange was to have taken place.
Marger said he will prove all his charges with testimony and evidence.
As Marger lectured the jury he was twice warned not to argue his case, just present what he would show. After the second warning Marger said he forgot what he was talking about and prosecutor Modesitt said, "Bobby Vines." Marger said, "Oh yes," and those in the courtroom restrained their laughter.
Modesitt, in his opening statement, gave the chronology of events in the smuggling operation.
The first witness called, William H. Epperson, gave testimony aimed at substantiating it.
Epperson was charged with conspiracy to possess marijuana in connection with the Sandy Creek smuggling operation and has pleaded guilty. He agreed to testify for the state and has not been sentenced yet.
He said he was first approached by Vines in mid-November 1976 to work with him in the operation. He said at first he thought Vines, who'd hired him as a bartender at A.J.s Lounge in Tallahassee, was joking.
However, he said, Vines talked to him three or four more times and, because he needed the money, Epperson agreed to help.
He said he was promised $90,000 and received enough payment in marijuana that he earned $45,000.
He said all those recruited by Vines to help in the smuggling operation, which included Epperson, Steinhorst, Charles Hughes and John David Mitchell (who has also pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge) were paid in marijuana.
Epperson said he helped Vines buy three large rubber rafts and three 17-foot aluminum fishing boats that were used to haul the marijuana from the ship "Gunsmoke" about a mile to the beach at Sandy Creek.
He said he did not know all the names, because some of those involved never gave last names, or even real names. But he pointed out those who, he said, were present the night the marijuana was brought ashore. He identified the Lukefahrs as the drivers of two 10-wheel refrigerated trucks that were used to haul the marijuana.
He identified Capo as one of the kingpins in the operation that night. The only defendant he did not identify was Estrup, captain of the Gunsmoke, who is accused of trying to import more than 20,000 pounds of pot.
The Gunsmoke was reported sinking by two fishing boats on Jan. 27, 1977, off the Florida coast near St. Petersburg. When the boat was recovered, three months ago, more than 20,000 pounds of marijuana was found on board.
Epperson said much of the pot loading operation was aborted because a boat with a search light was spotted at 4 a.m. while marijuana was being hauled to the shore.
Epperson is expected to be questioned by defense attorneys when the trial continues at 9 a.m. today.