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The JFK assassination and ‘Barry & ‘the boys’

Published: October 26, 2017
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Two hours before John Kennedy was assassinated on Friday November 22 1963  at 12:30 p.m. Central Time,  the stripper headlining Jack Ruby’s Carousel nightclub in Dallas was in a panic to get out of  town.  

The National Archives and Records Administration today began releasing government documents never been disclosed on the Kennedy assassination, under a law passed in 1992 after Oliver Stone’s movie “JFK” provoked widespread discontent about foot-dragging on disclosure. (Thanks, Oliver!)

There are a number of passages in ‘Barry & ‘the boys’  which reveal facets of the Kennedy Assassination never before known—or even suspected to exist—in the literature of the Kennedy assassination. Why? Is it because I’m the smartest, most fearless investigative journalist alive? 

However attractive as an explanation that might be, there’s another one that’s far more plausible: 

Among journalists whose living depends on knowing which stories to flog like a mule,  and which to leave strictly alone, reporting which exposes CIA drug trafficking operations—especially in anything like real time— remain verboten, taboo, and highly-discouraged.

See, for instance, Gary Webb.   

The story I want to tell today is about two women from the same family in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The first, “Aunt Jada,” was a stripper, exotic dancer extraordinaire, and savvy survivor who managed to play a  significant role pointing to Jack Ruby’s knowledge of the upcoming Kennedy Assassination. 

The second woman,  Jada’s niece Lena,  who exemplifies traditional American upward mobility,  even  in organized crime,  became an officer in a hundred million dollar corporation strongly suspected of being involved in the money laundering industry which sprang up around Barry Seal.  

Drug smuggling, money laundering, and covert ops leading to assassination plots  are hallmarks of the one U.S. governmental Agency, and its most famous operative, Barry Seal, that is most often accused of complicity in the death of John Kennedy. 

Drug pilots are glorified bus drivers with epaulets

How I got the story: At a certain point during a two-year investigation into Barry Seal n Louisiana,  I got ‘wised-up.’ 

Afterwards, romantic tales of drug pilots skimming the waves across the Gulf of Mexico  to avoid radar detection became uninteresting, as I realized that unless you’re an amateur free-lancer—and there are few of them— flying drugs into the United States is no more eventful than driving a school bus. 

If you did a line of coke during the 1980’s—in a club, at a bar, in a bathroom stall, anywhere—chances are pretty good it came through Barry Seal’s Transportation and Logistics Division. It was a huge undertaking, bigger than  Procter & Gamble’s massive operation to stock and re-stock pharmacy and supermarket shelves with toothpaste and Charmin.

And it was Barry Seal who kept the trains running on time in the drug trade in the U.S.  It is a $400 billion a year industry in the U.S. alone, creating a slush fund as big as the dead zone awash with plastic refuse in the Pacific. Big enough to buy a Presidential election. Or almost anything else.

I was left with just one big question:  Who gets to pass out all that fresh green?

Using Barry Seal’s own records I began trying to trace the money up the line, looking for the Big Boss, or the Old Man, as Seal called him.

Then I got a fateful tip.  “Take a look at ‘Trinity Energy,” advised a source. “Richard Ben-Veniste (Seal’s one-time attorney) incorporated a Trinity Oil or Trinity Energy to launder money for his client.”

Be careful what you wish for

The tip eventually allowed a glimpse into the “corporatization” of the drug trade.  But it was also a mixed blessing. Because before I had even finished investigating Barry Seal’s drug money laundering connections, I had been  sued, separately, by two men whose names surfaced in connection with what was apparently a touchy topic. 

The lawsuits were successful in keeping ‘Barry & ‘the boys’ out of  bookstores  for almost five years. I was eventually forced to settle, and remove both men’s names from my book.  (And no, Project Censored never called.)

Still, I was able to uncover evidence of a “close business associate” of Barry Seal who incorporated a company called ‘Trinity Energy’ that was sold for $22 million in 1995, ending up in the hands of a Delaware company, ICF Kaiser, then being run by Tony Coehlo, a former California congressman who went on to run Al Gore’s 2000 Presidential campaign. 

That was shocking news. Then a second (but related) company called Trinity Energy yielded evidence which was even more interesting. 

This is that story.

A serious case of post-Mardi Gras blues

The sign on the front door of a steak house in New Orleans’ French Quarter said “closed,”  which enraged the restaurant’s proprietor, who entered, and angrily strode across the darkened main dining room. 

Accounts of what happened next agreed. When the smoke cleared, it was apparent he’d been shot three times at point blank range… by his wife.

At his wife’s trial for attempted murder, he testified, “I went inside and asked someone why the restaurant was closed. Then I looked at the bar, and Lena (his wife and business partner) was sitting on a stool. When I asked her why the restaurant was closed, she reached into the pocket of her sweater, and instantly I knew why it had been closed, and why all the workers had been sent home.”

“I threw my hands up and said, ‘uh, don’t Lena! Then I saw the blue flame from the gun.”

“I felt the bullet hit me in the jaw. I turned and tried to dive behind the bar. She shot me two more times, in the back. I fell to my knees and crawled toward the bar on my stomach.”

 “I was on the phone with Lena when she shot him,” a Houston restaurateur who was a longtime business associate of the couple told me. 

  I heard the shots and the commotion. When she picked the phone back up, I said, “Lena, did you  just shoot Dale?”

She said, “’Yeah, I shot the bastard. But it was a really little gun. He’ll live.’”

“All the way from Gulfport to New Orleans”

Lena had pumped three .25-caliber bullets from a derringer into her husband’s imposing 6-foot-2-inch, 240-pound bulk. Was it a fit of pique?

The answer was ‘no,’ according to the dozen witnesses who testified on Lena’s behalf, who characterized her husband as a “raging bull” and described numerous occasions on which he had physically abused his wife.  In his defense, he had told police he didn’t beat his wife “any more than any other husband.”

Their only child also spoke of a reign of terror. “Once on Father’s Day, my mom gave my Dad a pencil sharpener for a present,”he testified. “And he threw it at her in the car, called her a bitch and a whore, and was driving and hitting her all the way from Gulfport (Mississippi) to New Orleans.”

Days later a courtroom packed with supporters cheered the verdict of not guilty of attempted murder.

Why is this of interest to the story of Barry Seal?

In 1981, when drug traffickers were hauling in so much money they resorted to weighing it on pallets, incorporation papers filed in Louisiana listed both of these two ‘star-crossed lovers’ as officers in a company called Trinity Energy.

Aunt Jada’ Had a Secret

Lena had been married to one of Carlos Marcello’s minions, who, after a season on a “shrimp boat” in the late 1970’s became independently wealthy, and a hugely-successful restaurateur.

And Janet, or Jada, Conforto, or Conforte, was Lena’s aunt, the star headliner the weekend Kennedy was murdered.

“I noticed you’ve been sniffing around the New Orleans Conforte’s,” wrote someone who had been following our progress. “You might be interested in the fact that ‘Jada’ was the stage name of a stripper from New Orleans who was Jack Ruby’s girlfriend and whose real name was Janet Conforto.”

When Jack Ruby was arrested, authorities found hundreds of 8×10 glossies of Jada in the trunk of his car. Ruby had been handing them out to anyone who would take one.

Turns out, Aunt Jada had a secret. On the morning of the Kennedy assassination,  She was in such a panic to leave Dallas that she ran over a pedestrian.

Driving a white Cadillac convertible with Louisiana plates, Jada Conforto stopped just long enough to phone someone in Jack Ruby’s office to pick up the slightly-injured pedestrian,  and take him to a hospital.  To the traffic officer filling out the report,  she said, “Please just hurry up and call someone in Ruby’s office to fix things. I’m in a hurry to get to New Orleans.”

It is clear that there was something extremely urgent that Jada had to do.  She had to get out of town.

“By the way, about that Oswald thing”

She should have been getting ready to ‘open’ at the Carousel. Instead, Dallas police documents indicate, she suddenly became fiercely  intent on ‘getting the fuck out of Dodge.’ 

In a letter filled with coded references to the head of the Dallas Criminal Investigation Division, Dallas Asst. Chief of Police Charles Batchelor reported that a local man had been hit by a woman fleeing Dallas in a hurry at 10:30 a.m. on the morning of the assassination. Although Jada was a well-known top-billed stripper for Ruby,  the letter said “The woman gave the appearance of being in show business.”

Then, with studied indifference, the letter states “It is unknown if this has any significance in the Oswald case.”  

On the morning of the JFK assassination, Jack Ruby’s girlfriend was frantically fleeing Dallas.  According to the Dallas Police,  it had no significance to the Oswald case. And it didn’t even make the papers. 

Investigating Barry Seal’s links to drug money laundering—which ostensibly have nothing to do with the Kennedy assassination—turned up evidence that the FBI’s characterization of Jack Ruby as a small-time operator “never able to cultivate” friendships with important figures in organized crime left something to be desired.

An invite to the Marcello bash

There’s a coda:  I asked Lena if she’d put me in touch with ‘Aunt’ Jada’ for an interview.

She said, “Jada’s dead. She was killed in a motorcycle accident during the (House Select Committee) Kennedy assassination investigation.”

“My sister in Kenner told me a few years later that Jada had been murdered because she knew too much.”

I also asked where she and her mobbed-up hubby were on the day of the assassination.

She said, “We were on our way to a big party that night, the big post-acquittal bash Carlos Marcello held after being found “not guilty” of federal charges on the same day Kennedy died.”

“I was on a streetcar on Canal Street, shopping for a new dress to wear to the party when I heard the news. I turned around and went home, and didn’t have the heart to go to the party. But he (my husband) went.”

 And so it goes.

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