With less than an hour left, the plan had gone wrong. The three of them were supposed to steal five cars and place them at five police substations around Denver. Each car would contain a homemade bomb, and each bomb would explode as police chiefs from around the world sipped coffee and nibbled dessert during a banquet at the Regency Inn.
As it happened, though, they only had time to steal two cars and target one substation: a squat, gray-brick building on West Florida Avenue where forty officers and neighborhood leaders were gathered for a community meeting. It wasn't what they had envisioned, but it would have to do.
So they sat in the living room of the green-and-white clapboard home on West Exposition Avenue with a roll of electrical tape, a pack of plastic garbage bags, a few blasting caps, a flashlight battery, a stopwatch and 28 sticks of dynamite.
It was 9 p.m.
The leader--he was the 45-year-old owner of a Phillips 66 station, some say--stuck his finger into a thick black stick of military-grade dynamite to make a hole for a blasting cap. He took a knife from his pocket and began shaving the insulation from one of the blasting-cap wires. But he kept cutting the wire in half.
So he handed the device to a 26-year-old Vietnam vet with a rap sheet longer than his scraggly black hair. But the vet couldn't do it either, so he passed the tools to the third man, a 22-year-old mechanic who finished the job while the others watched.
"What would happen if we attached the last of the wires?" the vet asked. "Would that make it explode?"
"I don't know," the leader replied. "But if we made a fatal error now, it wouldn't make much difference. We wouldn't be here to know about it."
The vet made the sign of the cross.
Fifteen minutes later, the final wires were attached and the stopwatch was set. The bomb was wrapped in tape and placed inside a plastic trash bag.
"Wipe your fingerprints and put the leftover stuff in the box," the leader said.
The mechanic walked outside, put the scraps in the trunk of his '57 Chevy and drove away.
Undercover police officers watched from a van nearby.
The leader and the vet emerged from the house, carried the bomb to the leader's brand-new Oldsmobile and slowly drove toward a stolen '67 Plymouth parked five blocks away.
It was 9:30 p.m.
The bomb was set to explode in twenty minutes.
It was a strange time, 1975. A big shark terrorized the nation in a movie called Jaws; Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Moore popped off a few shots at President Gerald Ford; Patty Hearst was finally nabbed in San Francisco after her kidnapping by machine-gun-toting terrorists; and the number-one song was "Love Will Keep Us Together."
That year, Denver ranked as one of the nation's three top cities for bombings. The Denver bomb squad was dispatched 339 times, picked up 73 explosive devices and handled 24 actual explosions. The targets included banks, restaurants, hotels, school buses, bridges, parks, electrical transmission centers, a radio station and even the home of the regional CIA chief. The reason, city officials theorized: "Proportionally, there are more political radicals, malcontents or maniacs in Denver willing to vent their emotions by blowing something up."
Among the radical malcontents were the three men who sat in that west Denver living room on September 17, tangled in one of the most notorious bombing plots in city history. But just how they got there and what they planned to do remains a mystery. Even now, 24 years later, no one is exactly sure what went down.
And now three local authors have compiled three different accounts of the plot that cloud things even more.
The first book, released in December, was written by Juan Haro, former vice chairman of the Crusade for Justice and one of the three men with the dynamite that day. His self-published memoir is named Ultimate Betrayal.
The second book, The Crusade for Justice: Chicano Militancy and the Government's War on Dissent, is due from the University of Wisconsin Press in June. It's written by Ernesto Vigil, historian, master theorist and former Crusade insider. His chapter on the plot is called "The Conspiracy Case Against John Haro."
The third book is by former Denver Police Department detective Daril Cinquanta, whose memoir, once he finds a ghostwriter to finish it, will expose the inner-workings of a big-city police department. The plot, he says, was the biggest case of his career.
Three books, three versions.
Someone is lying.
Maybe all three.
PART ONE: THE BELIEVER
Juan Haro grew up poor on Denver's east side, the oldest of three children. His father, Gregorio, was born in Mexico and at age thirteen walked across the border into the United States. Gregorio stood less than five feet tall and, because of a childhood accident, limped, one leg being shorter than the other. But he never missed a day of work. Juan always admired him for that.
His mother, Thomasa, also came from Mexico. She met and married Gregorio when he worked for the railroad in Denver. Haro doesn't remember much about her other than her quiet laugh. When he was five, Thomasa caught a cold that turned into pneumonia. Gregorio was afraid to take her to the hospital because authorities might discover their illegal-immigrant status, and Thomasa died at her home on Larimer Street.
Juan spent many of his days at the Little Flower Community Center, where he and the other kids wrestled on the floor mats and took turns boxing with the only pair of gloves. Haro recalls the hot meals of macaroni and mashed potatoes as "one of the highlights of my childhood."
He did well in school, especially in history and math, but he dropped out in the tenth grade after a Manual High School teacher publicly teased him about not having the 25-cent textbook fee. In 1947, at age seventeen, Haro joined the Army. He was trained as a paratrooper and stationed in Japan as a military policeman during the war-crimes trials.
During a furlough in 1951, he married a woman from Denver's west side. He left the service a year later and bought a green-and-white clapboard home on West Exposition. He and his wife were the first Hispanics on the block. When they moved in, a neighbor put a "For Sale" sign on the lawn.
With his military background, Haro wanted to be a police officer or firefighter, but each time he applied, he was told there were no openings. He also tried to join the plumbers', carpenters' and electricians' unions but was rejected by all three. When he applied to be a city bus driver, a supervisor told him, "The company already has one Spanish kid working here. But if he ever quits, I'll be glad to hire you."
So Haro worked at a foundry, for a produce company and as a contract driver with the Tenneco Oil Co. He even bought into a neighborhood tavern. In 1967 he leased a Chevron station at 32nd Avenue and Perry Street. A few years later he bought a Phillips 66 station at West Eighth Avenue and Kalamath Street. He was 37 years old. He had a good business, a nice house and two boys. He had done well for himself. He was happy.
By this time, the civil rights movement had taken root and was beginning to blossom in Denver. Chicanos had lined up behind a charismatic and articulate ex-boxer named Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales, who'd gained political notoriety as a Democratic Party organizer. Gonzales, also the author of the poem "I Am Joaquin," was known as a man who could inspire his people.
When Gonzales was fired as director of the Neighborhood Youth Job Program in the spring of 1966 for allegedly hiring too many Hispanics, Haro attended a support rally. As the fierce-eyed activist stood at the microphone, Haro found himself impressed. Gonzales said things about discrimination and cultural pride that needed to be said.
Haro introduced himself, and Gonzalez invited him to attend a meeting of Los Voluntarios, a Hispanic political group within the Democratic Party. Haro had never been active in politics, knew little about fundraising and had few high-powered contacts. But he was loyal, dependable and hardworking. If someone told him to be at a certain place at a certain time, he would be there. He also knew what it felt like to be poor and discriminated against. And like others at the meeting, he was tired of hearing stories about police harassment and hiring quotas. So he joined Los Voluntarios.
Not long afterward, in November 1966, the Crusade for Justice was born. Gonzales, who had broken from the Democrats as his tactics became more confrontational, was unanimously elected leader. Two years later, Haro became vice chairman.
Among other things, the Crusade helped organize the Poor People's March in Washington, D.C., supported Chicano rights nationwide, led demonstrations against police shootings, supported high school walkouts over discrimination, led "splash-in" protests to improve barrio swimming pools, sponsored demonstrations on Mexican Independence Day and opened a school and community center.
But with those strides came conflict. Crusade members felt they were under constant surveillance by police, federal and even military agents bent on destroying their organization. Clashes were frequent. Among the worst was the March 17, 1973, gun battle, riot and explosion outside Crusade headquarters, at 1567 Downing Street. A police officer was critically wounded and a Crusade member killed by police that day, with dozens more injured and as many as sixty people arrested.
Haro stood squarely behind the Crusade and its militant cry for change. Although he spent most of his time at his service station, he opened the Crusade's weekly meetings, traveled with Gonzales, helped organize rallies and did whatever he was asked to do. He even ran for mayor on the Raza Unida Party ticket in 1971. The Crusade had become one of the nation's most prominent Chicano-rights groups. Juan Haro believed.
PART TWO: THE BUST
Daril Cinquanta loved being a cop. He loved everything about it. The long hours. The stale doughnuts. The look on a punk's face when he slapped on the cuffs. "It was wonderful," he says. "The best."
Today, ten years after he traded in his DPD badge for a private investigator's license, Cinquanta keeps cardboard boxes of old case files and thick black binders of news clippings.
"I don't think I was a normal policeman," he says. "I worked every day. Even my days off. I loved the chase. The challenge. Catching stickups in progress. Solving whodunits. You have no idea how great that was. I didn't care if I was a detective or a patrolman. I loved working the street. I was good, too. Really good."
Cinquanta was 21 when he joined the force in 1970. He worked all parts of the city and closed all kinds of cases, but he focused on the Hispanic community. The compact Italian with a large nose, a thick mustache and a silver tongue has been called both a supercop and a racist thug, but he shrugs off his detractors. He didn't care about skin color, he says. He was unpopular only because he made so many arrests and "put 1,000 people in prison."
But understand this: Cinquanta wasn't into writing parking tickets. He wanted robberies, thefts, dope deals, murders. If something big went down on his beat, he wanted to know. And one of the ways he knew was through a network of informants who dug up dirt and snitched to make a little cash, stay out of prison or take down competition. If you want to catch a crook, he says, use a crook.
Late one night, Cinquanta found one of his best sources. The cop was standing outside the notorious Las Casitas housing projects at Federal and 13th Avenue with a hot tip. He had just heard that two fugitive robbers lived there, so he crept closer to the front door to see if they were home.
Just then a short, stocky man walked out and practically bumped into him. Cinquanta pressed his nickel-plated .9mm pistol to the man's head and frisked him. In his pocket, the officer found a bag of marijuana.
"Look," Cinquanta said. "Work for me and I'll save you a trip to the pen. Do deals for me and I'll drop the arrest for weed."
The man was Joseph Cordova Jr., a former Marine wounded twice in Vietnam and dishonorably discharged after he tried to rob a Denver pharmacy while on furlough in 1969. Cordova had also done some prison time and had dabbled in petty crimes since his release. He considered Cinquanta's offer for all of two seconds before agreeing.
In the months that followed, Cordova and Cinquanta worked some twenty cases. In exchange for his help, Cordova received cash and deferred prosecution on drug and other charges. Cinquanta made his way toward detective.
In August 1975 Cordova called Cinquanta with another tip: A friend of his dad's was making grenades at a Phillips 66 station and bragging about doing "something permanent" to a police station. His name: Juan Haro.
Cinquanta had heard of Haro and knew all about the Crusade. Four years earlier Cinquanta had been shot in the torso during a traffic stop by a gunman who left behind a cap with a Crusade for Justice button. The gunman had fled to Mexico, possibly with the Crusade's help, before being extradited to Denver and convicted for shooting the cop.
Afterward Cinquanta had made it his business to learn about the group and its members. His conclusion: "They were terrorists. They openly advocated shooting policemen, overthrowing the government and civil disruption. They were dangerous."
He and other officers suspected that revolutionary factions within the Crusade had either engineered or supported many of the Denver bombings in 1975 and had ties to international terrorist groups, including Puerto Rican radicals.
Cinquanta passed the grenade tip to bomb squad captain Robert Shaughnessy as he sat behind his typewriter, absorbed in his work. "If you get one," he told Cinquanta, "call me."
The cop met with his informant and devised a plan: Cordova was to ask Haro for grenades in order to bomb an Arab grocery store rumored to cheat Hispanics. Cordova agreed. Several days later, he called the cop and said he had them.
"No shit," Cinquanta replied.
The two met at Sixth and Kipling to examine the two grenades--standard-issue duds available at any Army surplus store, but these were filled with gunpowder and nails and fitted with fuses. Cinquanta phoned Shaughnessy at home, and a few minutes later the police arrived with lights blazing.
Shaughnessy took one look at the grenades and asked, "Where's the informant?"
"No way," Cinquanta said. "He's my guy. It's my case. Get me a special assignment and I'll get these guys. I know I can."
Shaughnessy met with Cinquanta's boss, then reluctantly agreed.
But before the operation moved forward, authorities told Cordova he'd have to testify against Haro and other Crusade members in court. In exchange, he'd receive "a new life and a new job" under the federal Witness Protection Program. A price might be placed on his head (it later was), but police said they couldn't make the case without him. Once again, Cordova agreed.
Police assembled a secret task force that included numerous cops, four intelligence-bureau detectives and eight agents from the Oklahoma branch of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. They set up headquarters at a Ramada Inn, pooled data from other operations and devised a strategy: Cordova and undercover agents would infiltrate militant sects within the Crusade to gather information on bombs and plans to use them.
Since the informant had told Haro he wanted to bomb the Arab grocery store located a few blocks from the Phillips 66 station, authorities decided to stage it. A dummy grenade was placed in the store, the bomb squad was dispatched, and the daily newspapers reported the incident as if it were real. Just like that, Cordova had credentials as a militant.
Police then raised the stakes. On September 12, Cordova visited Haro's station and said he needed more grenades for a job near Grand Junction. Haro told him to come back the next day, and he did. But this time he brought undercover ATF agent Robert Valdez, posing as Cordova's friend "Beto." Cordova also wore a body microphone transmitting to an unmarked police van across the street.
The informant walked into Haro's office and introduced Beto as "someone who could be trusted." After Cordova told Beto to wait outside, Haro retrieved four grenades from a wooden crate under his desk, put them in a plastic bag and handed them over.
"Is that enough?" Haro asked.
Cordova nodded, thanked Haro and put the bundle in his car trunk. Although Valdez never actually saw Haro hand Cordova the grenades, he later testified that he had frisked the informant before they arrived at the station. Cordova had entered Haro's office empty-handed and exited with a bag of bombs.
A few days later, Cordova again visited the Phillips 66. Haro told him about the plan to bomb five police substations. Cordova volunteered for the job. "Be prepared," Haro told him.
On September 17, Cordova reported to the service station and was briefed by mechanic Anthony Quintana, who said they were supposed to steal at least two cars, bring them back, wipe them clean and position them at pre-determined spots around the city. Then they'd meet at Haro's house, make the bombs and drive in a three-car caravan to the District 4 substation on West Florida. Both men were under the impression that others would be involved, but Haro never elaborated.
Alerted by Cordova to the plot, dozens of undercover officers and federal agents staked out Haro's station, his home and those of other Crusade members. A helicopter hovered overhead. Cinquanta watched from the surveillance van across the street.
"It was like a movie," the former cop recalls. "It was beautiful."
The informant and the mechanic left the station, hot-wired two cars and returned with a stolen '67 Plymouth and a stolen '68 Ford. The cars were cleaned of fingerprints and fitted with stolen license plates. Corky Gonzales stood beside them while they worked, Cinquanta says, then took a handkerchief from his pocket, opened the car door and wiped off his prints. He was there, Cinquanta speculates, to give his "Good Housekeeping seal of approval."
The Plymouth was stationed at the King Soopers parking lot in the Alameda Shopping Center on South Zuni Street and West Alameda, and the Ford was parked in the 1800 block of Downing Street, near Children's Hospital.
At dusk, Cordova drove to his apartment and spoke to police through his body wire: "Here's the plan. We're going to hit the substation near Florida. The device will be inside the vehicle. The vehicle will be beside the substation. I will be driving by myself in the car with the device."
Although Cordova had worn the body wire most of the day, at the last minute he left the microphone in the Plymouth for fear of being searched. So as the rest of the plot unfolded, police watched in silence.
About 8:30 p.m., Cordova called Haro's house and told Haro's wife he was having car trouble. He asked for Haro to meet him at the King Soopers. Haro did, and they inspected the Plymouth one last time.
Cordova then drove the stolen car to South Alcott Street and West Cedar Avenue. Haro picked him up there and drove the five blocks back to his house on West Exposition. Quintana arrived thirty minutes later with the blasting caps, stopwatch and some of the dynamite. Haro had the rest on hand.
About this time, police saw Corky Gonzales drive by the stolen Ford near Children's Hospital several times and examine the car very closely.
At 9:15 p.m., Quintana left Haro's home. Several minutes later, Haro and Cordova followed. Haro drove his Olds to the stolen Plymouth, dropped off Cordova, and wheeled around. Cordova put the bomb in the backseat of the Plymouth, got in and pulled away from the curb. Haro followed him.
Police didn't know how many bombs had been made, and they didn't know how many cars were en route to which substations. But they didn't want to lose Haro or Quintana in traffic. At 9:30 p.m., they acted.
Quintana was forced off the road at South Zuni and West Virginia and arrested. Haro was yanked through his window, thrown to the street and cuffed. Cordova was also detained.
Along with Cordova, Haro was stuffed into a car with Cinquanta, who told him, "If anyone gets killed tonight, you're a dead man." The officer later said he was referring to the death penalty, but Haro took it as a threat on his life and allegedly mumbled: "Let me dismantle it. All you have to do is cut the wire. I made the bomb. I know how to do it."
He never got the chance. Shaughnessy and the bomb squad lifted the dynamite from the Plymouth, clipped a wire leading from the stopwatch and disabled the bomb. The time remaining: Fifteen minutes.
PART THREE: REASONABLE DOUBT
Many things have been said about Ernesto Vigil: that he's a hothead, that he's wound tighter than a spool of thread, that he sees intrigue in even the simplest of events, that he looks over his shoulder one too many times and that he wears his scar from the March 17, 1973, police shootout like a badge. And all of those things might be true.
But you cannot say the man is disingenuous. He is meticulous, thorough and committed. Although he has a way of approaching a subject through the scenic route, his theories are usually grounded in dates, documents and research. If he cannot verify a statement with a fact or a footnote or a file from his tattered brown briefcase, he'd rather not venture an opinion.
In his book, Vigil holds nothing back.
In August 1977, he writes, a 49-year-old man walked into Crusade headquarters on Downing Street, distraught and nervous. His name was Varoline Joseph John Cordova Sr. He was the father of a police informant and said he had information about the Haro case. "The government," he said. "They used my boy."
By this time, Haro and Quintana had been acquitted on state charges of attempted murder, arson and conspiracy in connection with the 1975 bombing plot. But Haro had been convicted in federal court of illegally possessing hand grenades and sentenced to six years in prison. His attorneys had appealed. The Denver Chicano Liberation Defense Committee was also gathering evidence for his defense.
When Varoline Cordova walked into Crusade headquarters, he was directed toward defense-committee members. As he spoke into a tape recorder, he reinforced suspicions that Crusade members had long held about the bombing plot: namely, that Haro had been framed by cops who were willing to break the rules and an unstable informant with a reason to lie.
Joseph Cordova had grown up in northwest Denver, where Varoline owned a grocery store. When he was five, Joseph suffered a serious injury, and a steel plate was placed in his head.
"The best neurosurgeon saved his life," Varoline Cordova told defense-committee members. "But I had a retarded boy."
At seventeen, Joseph brought home a Marine Corps recruiter and told his father he wanted to enlist. Varoline Cordova refused.
"You can't take him," he said. "He's got a plate in his head."
"It's all right," the recruiter replied. "They wear helmets."
At that, Varoline Cordova consented, thinking the military would do his son good. And when Joseph returned from boot camp, his father saw that it had.
"They really modeled him good," Varoline Cordova recalled.
Joseph Cordova served for thirteen months in Vietnam, was twice wounded and received the Purple Heart. In 1969 he returned home on a thirty-day furlough and asked to borrow his father's car for a date. Instead, he and his younger brother robbed a pharmacy.
"They went and pulled a holdup," Varoline Cordova said. "Me with a grocery store, and they pull a holdup. Does that make sense?"
Joseph Cordova pleaded innocent by reason of insanity. Because of his childhood head injury, his attorneys argued, he suffered frequent blackouts. He was convicted anyway and served twenty months in the Colorado State Reformatory. When he returned to Denver, his father could not control him.
"He was getting into one thing after another," Varoline Cordova said.
Then Joseph Cordova met Officer Cinquanta.
By the time the officer arrived on the north Denver beat, he already had a reputation for harassing Hispanics. And Cinquanta got worse after he was shot, Crusade members say. (Ironically, the gunman who had left the Crusade pin was actually an Italian using a Hispanic alias, Vigil claims.) Cinquanta was accused of rousting Chicanos at every turn, often at gunpoint.
Joseph Cordova said he became a snitch only after looking down the barrel of Cinquanta's pistol. "He stuck a gun in my face and threatened to blow me away," Cordova said on the witness stand during Haro's state trial in 1977. "I'd heard about him and that gun. It looked like a pretty good reason to become an informant."
After he joined up with Cinquanta, Joseph Cordova was accused of committing at least two burglaries while police supervised and waited to arrest his accomplices.
In April 1975, Cinquanta and his partner staked out a restaurant in Thornton while Cordova accompanied two men who burglarized the building and fled. Officers chased them at speeds approaching 100 mph. Shots were fired at the cops--some say by Joseph Cordova. The chase ended when police crashed into a pickup, injuring three civilians. The two accomplices were arrested, but charges were not filed against Joseph Cordova, because of his informant status.
A month later, Cinquanta's partner staked out a bar at West 52nd Avenue and Tejon while Joseph Cordova, who was wired for sound, plotted with another man to burglarize a home in Greeley. After driving to their destination and approaching several occupied apartments, Cordova and his accomplice found an empty one and went inside. The accomplice was arrested, but Cordova walked free.
Cinquanta and his partner filed reports saying that Cordova's accomplice had broken into the home. Other officers, however, said that the informant had committed the burglary while his accomplice drove around the block.
Robert Miller, then the Weld County district attorney, considered filing criminal charges against Cinquanta and his partner for misrepresenting the facts. He changed his mind only after the DPD's chief of investigations, Tom Rowe, formally apologized in a letter. "Apparently the officers thought they saw more than they actually did," Rowe wrote. Charges against the accomplice were dropped.
Joseph Cordova even tried to kill a man. Also in the spring of 1975, the informant visited the home of a man named Lloyd Dalrymple and asked him to hide stereos Cordova had stolen. Fifteen minutes later, Dalrymple's wife found her husband unconscious, with gunshot wounds in the head and forearm.
The informant later confessed to Cinquanta about the shooting, but he wasn't immediately prosecuted. No action was taken, police said, because Dalrymple didn't want to press charges. But Dalrymple, who carried a slug in his head, later said he didn't press charges because police pressured him not to.
In his book, Vigil highlights other doubts about the police informant. Despite extensive surveillance, no one besides Joseph Cordova actually saw Haro with the explosives. Although Cordova wore a police wire during many of his dealings with Haro, the garbled recordings revealed only general comments about "pigs" and no discussions of grenades or bombing substations.
Police conducted chemical tests on Haro's hands and clothes after his arrest but found no traces of dynamite. (Haro was allowed to wash his hands after fingerprinting.) Haro's fingerprints were not on the bomb. His alleged confession was never used in court.
During cross-examination at Haro's state trial, Cordova admitted he had experience making explosives in Vietnam. At one point he said he was the one who suggested bombing the police buildings. But he later recanted that statement, saying he'd misunderstood the question.
Daril Cinquanta, who'd made detective in 1977 after collecting the DPD's two highest awards, was demoted--and suspended--in 1981 for violating police procedures. In 1989, the Denver and Arapahoe County district attorneys' offices charged him with nine felony and four misdemeanor charges, for misusing informants and lying on police reports. The felony charges were later dropped, and Cinquanta pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor misconduct charges in exchange for two years' probation, a $2,000 fine and fifty hours of community service.
Cinquanta contends that of all the cases involving Joseph Cordova and his other informants were completely legitimate. Charges against him were politically motivated, Cinquanta says. Because of them, he retired from the police force.
From the beginning, Vigil says, Crusade members were wary of Joseph Cordova, who was hardly integral to operations. At the most, the informant attended several weekly meetings and maybe a rally or two, but he never infiltrated the ranks. Quite the opposite, in fact. Few Crusade members even knew his name. With his karate suits and anti-gringo rhetoric, Joseph Cordova was considered a little too militant.
Corky Gonzales even pulled Juan Haro aside at a community luncheon and told him to cut Cordova loose. But Haro never did, perhaps because he, too, considered himself a tough guy and was taken in by Cordova's bluster.
When Varoline Cordova came to Crusade headquarters in 1977, Vigil says, he confirmed all their doubts.
After Cordova began working on the Haro case, he told his father that authorities promised him $1,000 for each stick of dynamite he produced. And when newspapers reported the faked grocery-store bombing, Cordova said, "I got a thousand dollars for that."
"It was a silly game I thought he was playing," Varoline Cordova told Crusade members. "He was living with my mom at the time, and he was getting constant calls. That's all he'd do is live down in the basement and wait for calls. He wasn't even working. His wife was getting food stamps. All of a sudden he comes out with a roll of bills, all hundreds. He said something about the federals had given him his first payment. We lived good that day. Ate good, too."
Varoline Cordova said his son planned to save the money so the family could leave Denver and "live a life of luxury." At one point Joseph tried to recruit his father to work on the Haro case, but the older man refused.
"They only used my boy 'cause I was close to the Crusade," Varoline Cordova said. "I'm devoted now more than ever."
On the night of Haro's arrest, Varoline Cordova saw his son being wired with a microphone. "He was excited about it," he recalled. "He was like a little kid getting a toy. I kept pumping and pumping, and I got the whole story. He was gonna do Haro a number. I asked him, 'What kind of number?' He said, 'He won't be killed.' Then I started pumping more, and he said he was gonna set him up. He was going to set him up."
After Haro's arrest, Varoline Cordova said, federal agents took him downtown and promised to place him in the Witness Protection Program if he corroborated his son's testimony during the upcoming trials. "They'd fly me anywhere I wanted to go," he remembered. "They'd fill me in on Joey's testimony. If I'd cooperate, they'd give me the same protection." When he refused, agents threatened to commit him to a sanitorium "so my testimony wouldn't be any good."
Varoline Cordova never saw his son with grenades or dynamite. He never heard his son say he or police planted explosives on Crusade members. He never knew how his son planned to set up Haro. At the time he made his statement to the defense committee, Varoline Cordova also faced two felony charges and had a drinking problem. Some members speculated that he came forward only to save face with the Crusade.
Whatever the reason, he never testified during Haro's appeals and his statement was never used. Ernesto Vigil, who was co-chairman of the legal defense committee, says Haro flipped through the document and dismissed it because he doubted Varoline's credibility. Haro says he never saw the affidavit.
Varoline Cordova has since died, Vigil says, and Joseph Cordova Jr. has disappeared into the Witness Protection Program.
Quintana did not return Westword's phone calls for this story.
Although Vigil never says outright that Joseph Cordova or Daril Cinquanta framed Haro, he does suggest it with a quote from attorney Stan Marks, who won Haro's acquittal on the bombing charges: "We haven't proved and we haven't said that the police department planted the bomb. Maybe Cordova's duping the police. We cannot present to you how that dynamite got there. But given the character of Joseph Cordova, we'll leave it to your imagination."
PART FOUR: JUAN'S CONFESSION
Juan Haro served 22 months of a six-year prison sentence for the grenade conviction. He lost his gas station, his marriage dissolved and his family was blackballed. He now lives with his grandson in a northwest Denver duplex: 69 years old, a great-grandfather and part-time driver of a hotel shuttle.
Six years ago, Haro sat in his living room and began to write. He pulled together stories from his childhood, military service and time with Corky Gonzales and the Crusade. The result was Ultimate Betrayal, a meandering memoir of accusations and suspicions portraying Gonzales as a greedy tyrant who used the Chicano people for his own gain.
In a chapter called "Set Up, Sold Out, Entrapped," Haro confesses. He admits to giving grenades to Joseph Cordova. He admits to participating in the 1975 bombing plot. He admits to sitting on the witness stand and twice perjuring himself. He admits to practically everything police said he did, except making the bomb. That was all Cordova.
But there's a reason he played terrorist, Haro says. There's an explanation behind his deception. "Loyalty to Corky," he says. "Loyalty to the Crusade."
Here's how Haro tells it:
In early August 1975, Gonzales called Haro into his office at Crusade headquarters for a routine meeting. When he arrived, another Crusade member, whom Haro will not identify, sat quietly in a corner.
Gonzales said the International Police Chiefs Association was planning a convention in Denver on September 17. "I want to blow up five police substations that day," he said.
"Good idea, Corky," Haro replied. "Give 'em a taste of their own medicine."
At the time, Crusade members were fielding dozens of complaints about police harassment and brutality. And confrontations such as the March 17, 1973, shootout still burned brightly in many minds.
Haro says Gonzales went on to explain the plan and who would be involved, but Haro told him he didn't want to know names. All the while, the third member sat silently in the corner.
As Haro left the meeting, he wondered what he had just gotten himself into. He had no love for the police, but he wasn't about to bomb five substations.
"Maybe Corky will forget about it," he thought. "Like so many other things he talks about."
A week later at a Crusade community luncheon, Gonzales introduced Haro to Cordova, the son of a man he knew from school. Haro knew Cordova's dad, too. After that, Joseph Cordova began wandering by the filling station. Haro didn't like it, but he was under the impression that Gonzales wanted him to show Cordova the ropes, so he reluctantly did.
"Cordova was one of those guys who came around and tried to impress me like he was some kind of heavy," Haro recalls. "I thought, 'Who is this guy? You're not impressing me.'"
In early September--Haro isn't sure of the exact date--two Crusade members arrived at the station with a wooden crate. "Corky told us to bring this to you," they said. The men never explained what was in the box. They never said what it was for. So Haro slid it under his desk. Later he peeked inside and saw 24 grenades, some with long fuses, some with short fuses, some resembling oversized firecrackers. He had no intention of using them, so he let them be.
On September 13, Cordova visited the station wearing a red bandanna and Army fatigues. This time he brought a friend named Beto. Cordova pulled Haro aside and asked for the grenades. Haro got mad. "I don't know you," he thought. "Who do you think you are, asking for grenades? I don't even know you."
Just then, Gonzales arrived. Haro asked him about Cordova, and Gonzales told him, "Go ahead and give him some. He did some things on the coast."
So Haro put four grenades into a plastic bag. He had no idea Cordova was wearing a wire, that Beto was an undercover agent or that police watched from across the street. And then Haro went back to work. Two days later he sent the crate of grenades back to the Crusade.
As the police chiefs' convention approached, Haro began to think the bombing had been called off. Gonzales never mentioned it, so he didn't, either. Everything seemed normal. But then Gonzales wheeled into the Phillips 66 in his secretary's Thunderbird. With him he brought eighteen sticks of red construction-grade dynamite.
"For the job," Gonzales said.
Haro tried to backpedal, saying his partner had just quit.
"Why don't you take Cordova?" Gonzales asked.
Haro quietly agreed.
"Anytime you have a military man, and I'm a military man, you follow orders," Haro says now. "You know they're wrong, but you've been given an order, and like so many people in history, you follow them. The order Corky gave me, there was no way to get out."
On the morning of September 17, Gonzales visited the station again. He pulled the Thunderbird into the service bay and asked Haro to close the garage doors. Then Gonzales produced ten oversized sticks of black military-grade dynamite.
"Why did you bring these here?" Haro asked.
"I didn't think you had anything," Gonzales said. "So I brought some for the job tonight."
Strange, Haro thought. Gonzales would not have forgotten the earlier delivery--he was trying to raise the pressure. Still, Haro stalled until late that afternoon. He told Cordova and Quintana to steal the cars, plant them by the King Soopers in the Alameda Shopping Center and Children's Hospital and meet at his house.
But before the rendezvous, Haro says, he tried to call the whole thing off. He phoned the Crusade member who'd sat in on the meeting that August day but could not reach him. He called Gonzales twice but couldn't reach him, either. He even drove by the Gonzales house, but no one was home. Seeing no other option, Haro decided to go through with it.
"I could have walked away, but walked away as what?" he says. "A branded man? I'd lose face or whatever. It was something I didn't want to do, but there I was. It was a mess I got into that I couldn't get out of."
He met Cordova and Quintana at his home and asked his wife to visit her mother. After she left, they made the bomb. Around 9:15 p.m., Haro told Quintana to go home and stay home. Then he drove Cordova to the stolen Plymouth on Alcott and Cedar and ordered Cordova to put the bomb inside and drive.
"But that's not the way it's supposed to be," Cordova said.
"But that's the way it's going to be," Haro replied.
Looking back, Haro doesn't think he would have delivered the bomb. He probably would have told Cordova to find an empty lot where the Plymouth could explode without hurting anyone.
But it was too late. As Haro wheeled around his Olds, two unmarked sedans raced toward him. Eight officers and federal agents surrounded him with guns drawn. He was yanked from his car, thrown down and handcuffed. One officer pressed a boot heel to his head. No one read him his rights, he says, and Cinquanta threatened to shoot him in the head. While he lay on the asphalt, bruised and bleeding, Haro felt strangely calm.
"It was relief," he recalls. "I didn't get killed. No one else got killed. To be honest with you, it was a feeling of relief."
PART FIVE: WHODUNIT
In 1987, Corky Gonzales had a heart attack, wrecked his car and suffered permanent head injuries that impair his memory and reasoning ability. He no longer grants interviews, rarely speaks publicly and cannot directly answer Haro's claims.
But his eldest son, Rudy Gonzales, has read Haro's book and spoken about it with his parents. "He's just slinging mud and throwing crap," Rudy Gonzales says of Haro. "And he didn't even do that well. That book is a disservice to anyone who can read. It's such a weak literary attempt, I call it a comic book. It took me 45 minutes to read it. And I did that on the toilet."
In February, Rudy Gonzales wrote to Haro's publisher, Dorrance Publishing of Pennsylvania, and demanded it stop printing and distributing Ultimate Betrayal. The book is libelous, he said, adding that a lawsuit might be forthcoming. The vanity publisher--who was being paid by Haro to print the book--complied.
The book is the culmination of a ten-year attempt by Haro and his cronies to tarnish his father's legacy, Rudy Gonzales says. Haro and other disgruntled ex-Crusade members have paraded the same list of accusations before the FBI, the IRS and the Denver district attorney. Each time they came up empty, so they waited to write the book until Corky was unable to respond.
"I call them a bunch of bitter old men who have nothing better to do than try and ruin the lives of others," he says.
Although Rudy Gonzales refutes almost everything else in Haro's book, he cannot say one way or the other whether his father planned the bombing and ordered Haro to participate. Although his mother denies it, he also doesn't know if his father told Haro to give a police informant grenades, supplied Haro with dynamite or stood on hand while the plan unfolded. Rudy Gonzales was a boy when all of this happened, and his father never discussed it with him.
"I can't categorically deny it," says Rudy, who is writing his own book about his dad. "There was a lot happening at that time. My dad evolved from a civil rights man to a revolutionary. And the job of a revolutionary, if you read Che Guevara, is to overthrow a bad government and replace it with a good one. There's nothing to hide. Those were tumultuous times. Times of great change. And in times of great change, there's going to be pain and controversy. Any man who initiates great change is going to initiate great controversy. But I can't answer whether he knew something about it. It might have happened--I don't know. I hate to say it, but I just don't know."
But given the other information in Haro's book, Rudy Gonzales concludes: "He's a complete liar. John was the one working with a snitch. He was so much of an egoist and wanted so much to be the leader instead of someone created by my dad that he was willing to go to any lengths to do it. It was a power struggle within the organization to be recognized as a leader. It was an ego thing."
Haro stands by his book. Corky Gonzales set him up, he says. Corky conspired with a shady informant and overzealous cops to frame him. Corky served him up to authorities to take the heat off Corky and his family.
"Corky tried to put all this shit on my shoulders," Haro says. "For years I was going to be the one branded. How is Corky going to go down in history? How am I? To some people, as a patsy and a fool. But I'm not trying to clear my name. I can't. I knew about [the bombing]. I was there when it went down. Corky wanted me out of the way. Without me, he'd go down as a hero. I'm the only one standing in his way. I'm trying to expose him for what he is. I don't want people to think he was a hero, because he isn't."
The day after Haro's 1975 arrest, he points out, Corky's secretary was also arrested after visiting the Adams County landfill, where 121 sticks of dynamite were found, including 74 matching the type used in the September 17 bombing attempt. At her home, police also found 6,000 rounds of ammunition, an M-1 rifle, a pump shotgun, a 30.06 rifle, a 9mm pistol, a copy of the Anarchist's Cookbook and Corky's briefcase, which contained four police rosters. She was later released, Haro says.
Haro says he's gathering signed statements from people who can corroborate some of the claims in his book. If he has to name names in court to return Ultimate Betrayal to the bookstores, he'll do it.
"I said things a lot of people know but lack the courage to say," he says. "It's not sour grapes. It's something that happened. It's a conspiracy. Not only by the Denver police but by Corky. They're all in it together. People who know me will know that I'm not just shooting my mouth off."
Daril Cinquanta isn't so sure. He's read Haro's book, too. And although 90 percent of Haro's version matches his own, "the other 10 percent is bullshit," he says.
"You can take this and twist it any way you want, but facts are facts," he adds. "Nobody entrapped Haro. He entrapped himself. Haro did this. He made that bomb. And there's no way you're going to convince me he didn't intend to take it to District 4. Joey Cordova was a hero. If we hadn't been there that night, that bomb would have gone off. People would have died. You can take that to the bank."
As for Haro's theory that Corky Gonzales conspired with police and federal agents, the former cop laughs out loud.
"Anyone with half a brain isn't going to believe that," he says. "I was in control. It was my case. It was my informant. Corky Gonzales never snitched. If he was an informant, I'd tell you--believe me."
But Cinquanta also bristles at Vigil's suggestion that he or Cordova planted the explosives. Haro was acquitted, he says, because the jury was intimidated by Crusade members who packed the court.
"Get serious," Cinquanta says. "What I loved about police work was the chase. Why would I entrap them? If you can't get them fair and square, why get them? We used informants for twenty years as drivers or whatever, and the cases were always the suspect's ideas. We were only accused of two cases of entrapment, and neither one of those involved Joey Cordova. And in those that did, we dropped the charges. We exposed Juan Haro for what he was. He will always be a terrorist, a bomber and a radical. He screwed up. He should just admit it."
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All the finger-pointing makes Vigil mutter under his breath. The evidence in his book, which he's discussing at a conference in San Antonio this month, stands on its own. "The Crusade was on a list by law enforcement agencies to be destroyed," he says. "This was one way to do it."
If he had the time and inclination, Vigil could write another book just on Haro's book--how it came to be, and why.
Suppose, Vigil says, that Haro has been deliberately manipulated by certain people to distort history. Suppose these people once held powerful positions within the Crusade but were cut loose for grandstanding, among other things. Suppose these people stand to benefit by distorting the Gonzales legacy. Suppose these people are alive and well and plotting at this moment.
Then again, that's another theory.