Prospective 2016 GOP presidential contender Jeb Bush has always felt more at home in the glass towers along the shores of Biscayne Bay in downtown Miami than he has in the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee or the White House during his father's and brother's administrations. That is because Jeb, in his youthful days as a "businessman," cut his political teeth in behind-the scenes CIA drug smuggling, savings and loan rip-offs, and covert Central American wars.
Many of the skeletons in Jeb's closet are still found on Brickell Avenue in downtown Miami. The avenue is known as "bankers row" and has handled the accounts of Latin American and Caribbean dictators, billionaire businessmen, and drug lords. Bush early on linked up with a number of Cuban-American exiles who were raking in large sums of money in Miami. One of them is Armando Codina, an influential and wealthy Florida Republican who took Jeb into the web of dubious Cuban "gusano" business ventures in the early 1980s, at the cusp of activities that would later be known generally as the "Iran-contra" scandal.
Bush and Codina's joint real estate venture, called the Codina Bush Group, took out a loan from Broward Savings and Loan in Sunrise, Florida to buy an office building located at 1390 Brickell Avenue. Earlier, Bush invested a platry amount of money and became an investor in Codina's office building called the Museum Tower on West Flagler in downtown Miami.
Soon after loaning Bush and Codina the money for 1390 Brickell, Broward became one of the first victims of the S&L collapse and it filed for bankruptcy in 1988, the year Jeb's father was elected president over Michael Dukakis. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was left holding the bag on Broward's bad loans, to the tune of $285 million.
Among Broward's bad loans was a $4.6 million loan to an interlocking Bush and Codina corporate strcture that included IntrAmerica Investments, co-owned by Bush and Codina, and the Codina Bush Group, for the purchase of the Brickell Avenue office building. In a sweetheart deal with the FDIC, Bush and Codina paid the FDIC $505,000 and the federal government paid off the balance of $4.1 million Bush and Codina owed on the property. Bush and his partner became the happy owners of the office building courtesy of the American taxpayers. Jeb's real estate company managed the building, Codina owned 80 percent of it while Jeb acquired 20 percent ownership. In 1991, Bush and Codina sold 1390 Brickell for a cool $8 million.
Bush's other Cuban pal was Miguel Recarey, an associate of Miami mafia godfather Santo Trafficante and a number of CIA veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion and, reportedly and only in whispers, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Recarey was later indicted on federal racketeering charges involving the largest Medicare fraud in the history of the United States but he managed to flee to Caracas, Venezuela. His present whereabouts are unknown. Jeb was employed by Recarey's defunct firm,
International Medical Centers, Inc., which went out of business in 1987.
In 1986, Bush became a director of the Private Bank and Trust, a Swiss bank subsidiary that handled the accounts for a number of extremely wealthy Latin Americans, said to include drug cartel leaders, presidents, generals, and various oligarchs of mining, banana and coffee production, and telecommunications. In 1991, the bank was shut down by federal regulators over its dodgy investments. Bush said he was not aware of anything improper at the bank.
Another Bush company, Bush-El Corporation, attempted to market industrial water pumps to Nigeria on behalf of M&W Pump of Deerfield Beach. Its owner, David Eller, was a major contributor to the Republican Party. On a trip to Lagos, Bush convinced the Nigerians to purchase M&W pump with loans guaranteed by the U.S. Export-Import Bank, of course with the prodding of Jeb's presidential dad in the White House. Not surprisingly, for anyone who has attempted to conduct business with the Nigerians, the loans were not paid back. The American taxpayers were left holding the bag for Jeb once again.
There were more CIA agents and operatives buzzing around Brickell Avenue during Jeb's time in Miami in the 1980s than there were mosquitoes on a hot and humid afternoon in the nearby Everglades.
In the early 1980s, the CIA helped establish the anti-Sandinista Unidad Nicaraguensa Opositora (UNO) among the Nicaraguan emigres in southern Florida. Named as the secretary general of the UNO was a Nicaraguan businessman who ran a photocopy store in Miami. The Nicaraguan, Leonardo Somarriba, has served as the spokesman for the Nicaraguan Business Council, a group of right-wing Nicaraguan expat businessmen who opposed the Sandinistas. In fact, Somarriba was a CIA asset who was often seen at the CIA's station in Miami and in the company of known CIA agents.
Somarriba also happened to locate his "Sir Speedy" photocopy store on Brickell Avenue, not far from Bush's and Codina's S&L fire sale office building.
It is certain that Somarriba knew Jeb Bush, whose father just happened to have been a former CIA director and was the current Vice President of the United States. Somarriba's brief extended beyond Nicaragua to El Salvador. He advised Salvadorean Foreign Minister Fidel Angel Chavez Mena and steered campaign funds from the CIA into the coffers of presidential candidate and head of the feared El Salvador right-wing death squads, Jose Napoleon Duarte.
Another one of Bush's CIA pals was former CIA top official Richard P. Lawless, Jr., a CIA clandestine services officer who had been with the agency since 1972 and who worked closely with director William Casey and was reportedly a chief interlocutor between Casey and Oliver North and the government of Iran in freeing U.S. hostages in Lebanon in return for arms sent to Iran from the United States. In essence, Bush's partner was a central cog in the Iran-contra scandal. Money from Iran for the purchase of American weapons was diverted to the contras. The cadre around Lawless became known unofficially as the "Lawless Group," officials like deputy CIA counsel David Addington and CIA Central American Task Force chief Alan Fiers, Jr., who disdained congressional oversight and operated almost solely in the world of Casey's off-the-shelf companies that engaged in off-the-books operations. This world included Jeb Bush.
Bush and Lawless were involved in a number of joint real estate firms with catchy names like Uno Inc., Uno Dos Inc., and U.S. Asia Florida, Inc. The ventures were reported to have unknown foreign investors. Another firm that Bush and Codina were involved with at the same time Bush was working with Lawless was Oriental Trading Corporation located at 1300 W. 84th St. in Hialeah, and which was supposedly involved with manufacturing shoes in Panama. The company is no longer active.
After the Iran-contra scandal broke open and Casey died just prior to his testimony before Congress on Iran-contra, Lawless left the agency in 1987. Lawless started a pruvate consulting firm that landed lucrative contracts in South Korea and Taiwan. After former CIA case officer and CIA Group of 40 member Porter Goss took over as CIA director in 2004, he tried to pack the agency's leadership with his old cronies, including Lawless, who was then serving as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs under Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz. Goss, who was active in Group of 40 operations in Florida during the 1960s aimed at overthrowing Fidel Castro, wanted Lawless to replace clandestine services Director of Operations Stephen R. Kappes, who resigned over Goss's firing of seasoned CIA officers and replacing them with his old pals from the days when the CIA operated as a totally rogue agency. Goss never was able to bring Lawless on board and he, himself, was fired by George W. Bush as CIA director in 2005.
What Jeb Bush and his associates had set up from their headquarters on Brickell Avenue was a money laundering operation to steer over $400 million to the Nicaraguan contras for items that were barred under the Boland Amendment, which stopped the flow of U.S. government money to groups trying to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. It has been speculated that much of the lost Florida S&L money actually consisted of funds steered to the contras for weapons purchases and cocaine trading in total violation of the Boland Amendment and a host of other U.S. laws.
Apparently, being a Bush also means that one stares at potential future political controversy from the vantage point of arrogance. Jeb Bush is back in private business. His limited liability corporation, Jeb Bush & Associates, is located at 1441 Brickell Ave, Miami.
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