Longform

Smoke and Mirrors

Page 6 of 11

"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.

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Harrison Fletcher