Smoke and Mirrors

Page 7 of 11

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."

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Harrison Fletcher