Longform

Smoke and Mirrors

Page 4 of 11

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."

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Harrison Fletcher