Did Perot Want Dallas Police To `Sting' Bush Camp?
DALLAS - A security consultant for Ross Perot asked Dallas police to run an undercover "sting" operation - possibly bankrolled by the independent presidential candidate - against President Bush's Texas campaign chairman, police say.
Perot, who did not attend the early August meeting between Perot investigator James J. Siano and Police Chief Bill Rathburn, denied the police story.
According to Rathburn, Siano told police that the Dallas billionaire wanted the police department's help in luring the Bush chairman into buying secret material from Perot's office.
Rathburn said he called the plan "bizarre," said Dallas police would not get involved and referred the Perot official to the FBI.
If true, the police department's account of the meeting - arranged at Perot's behest - indicates that the independent presidential candidate took a more active role in seeking an investigation against GOP officials than he has said. Perot has said he believed Republicans were plotting to tap his phones and smear his daughter's reputation before her Aug. 22 wedding.
Perot confirmed that he called the chief to set up a meeting but said last night that neither he nor anyone else offered to finance any kind of sting operation. "I am appalled that anybody would even hint that," he said, "and I question that they did, frankly."
Perot said: "We asked the Dallas police who should investigate it, (and) if they should. They said no, the FBI should. We turned it over to the FBI and walked away from it."
Siano said he did not discuss a sting with police and made no offer of financial support from Perot. "I had no plan," he said.
He characterized the meeting with police as a "courtesy call" to inform them that Perot wanted to pursue his allegations with authorities.
He said he did not know why police have a different version of the meeting.
Bush-Quayle Texas chairman Jim Oberwetter said yesterday he was stunned to learn that police say the Perot camp had urged such an operation.
"Good God almighty," Oberwetter said.
"I will commend the Dallas Police Department for their good sense and clear wisdom," he said.
Clay Mulford, the Perot campaign's general counsel, said Perot was not trying to play a dirty trick on a political opponent. If the police account is accurate, Mulford said, it simply reflects Perot's belief that the Republicans were planning to bug his office and engage in other forms of sabotage.
"We are inundated with statements from people saying they know this stuff goes on, but they're afraid to come forward," Mulford said.
Rathburn told the Dallas Morning News that Perot sought a meeting between the chief and Siano to discuss Perot's claim that GOP officials wanted to wiretap his phones and smear his daughter.
Perot has said over the past three days that the risk to his daughter's reputation forced him to abandon his presidential bid July 16. He has provided no evidence to prove his allegations, and Bush yesterday described Perot's allegations as "crazy" and "strange."
Perot has said he turned over his suspicions to law enforcement authorities. He has given no indication that he or his campaign had sought to guide such an inquiry.
Siano said the Perot campaign wanted Dallas police to handle the investigation because it feared that the FBI would leak word of it to the president, Rathburn said.
"He laid it all out and said, `What do you think?' " Rathburn said.
"It's not every day that somebody comes to you with a Watergate-type story. It just sounded too bizarre," the chief said. "But in 29 years of law enforcement, I've heard a lot of bizarre stories that prove to be true. I wasn't dismissing anything."
`A VERY SERIOUS MATTER'
The meeting took place Aug. 4 after Perot called the chief about a "very serious matter," Rathburn said. Perot, who said he was calling from out of town, told the chief that one of his representatives, Siano, would be available to meet immediately.
Siano met less than an hour with Rathburn, Executive Assistant Chief Rudy Diaz and Capt. Eddie Walt.
Siano, 59, of Dallas, is a 20-year veteran of the FBI who resigned in July 1988 to manage a division of Business Risks International, a Dallas security firm that was bought out last year by Pinkerton International, records show. He now co-owns a security firm called Special Services Group in Dallas, he said.
Siano is a licensed private investigator, according to the Texas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies. In August 1988, he was named to the Dallas Citizens Police Review Board.
Perot records filed with the Federal Election Commission show that Siano was paid $900 for consulting services on Aug. 6, two days after the meeting with police.
Siano said he has done consulting work in the past for Perot. He said that when Perot told him of the alleged wiretapping plan, he advised him to take the matter to the FBI.
"Perot said, `Would you touch base with Chief Rathburn if I set up a meeting?' " Siano recalled. He said Perot did not name any group that might be behind the wiretapping plan.
"I didn't know anything about an Oberwetter," Siano said.
THE POLICE VERSION
Police gave this account of the meeting:
Siano opened by saying he had an audio tape of a former California police officer named Scott Barnes talking with representatives of the Republican Party. The men, whose names police could not recall, worked for a GOP organization in Washington, Rathburn said.
In recent interviews, Perot said that Barnes was one of three sources for his "dirty tricks" story about the Republicans and his daughter. Barnes, 38, of Prescott, Ariz., could not be found for comment.
He and Perot came to know each other because of claims by Barnes that he made trips to Southeast Asia in the early 1980s trying to secure the release of American POWs.
The audio tape was not shown or played for police, but Siano described its contents, saying the men discussed bugging Perot's phones and distributing altered photos which showed Perot's daughter Carolyn involved in sex acts with other women. Siano said that Barnes had contacted Perot and had given him a copy of the tape.
Siano said the GOP operatives had flown Barnes to Mexico, shown him the dummy photos and given him a detailed diagram of Perot's private phone lines for the purpose of planting wiretaps. Siano said the GOP supporters told Barnes that he was to be paid $150,000 for the wiretapping.
Barnes later got in touch with Perot through an unidentified British writer in Washington, Siano said.
Rathburn said that Siano identified people in Houston, Arizona, Washington and Dallas who should be put under 24-hour surveillance. Other than Oberwetter, police said they could not recall who else Siano named as a target.
Under the plan outlined by Siano, Oberwetter would be offered supposedly stolen documents from Perot's offices, then be arrested by police after paying for the material.
Siano offered the use of Perot equipment, airplanes and money to aid in the investigation, according to a person familiar with the meeting.
The chief said he told Siano that the allegations were beyond Dallas police jurisdiction and urged him to contact the FBI.
The chief also said that Siano did not explain why the Perot campaign sought police help more than two weeks after Perot dropped from the campaign.
"It was beyond the scope of our authority and beyond our ability, given the locations he was discussing," the chief said.
Later, on the evening of Aug. 4, Siano called Rathburn and told him that Perot had agreed to contact the FBI.
Rathburn said his last involvement with the incident was Aug. 5 when he called Oliver B. "Buck" Revell, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Dallas office, to alert him to the matter.
THE FBI GETS INVOLVED
An FBI spokeswoman confirmed Revell met with Siano in August. Their meeting occurred after Siano's talk with Dallas police, said Special Agent Marjorie Poche. She declined to give further details.
On Aug. 6, Oberwetter said, he was contacted at his Hunt Oil Co. office by a man who offered him damaging information about Perot. Oberwetter said he turned him down.
On Aug. 10, Oberwetter said, a different man came to his office and wanted to give him information from a wiretap of Perot's phones. Oberwetter rejected that offer and then contacted police, he said.
Oberwetter said he learned on the "60 Minutes" program that one of the men was sent by the FBI.
Oberwetter said he is still seeking an apology and an explanation from the FBI.
The agency has declined comment on that incident but said it is continuing an investigation of Perot's allegations of wiretapping. So far, it has reported finding no evidence to substantiate the accusations.