Eugene Hasenfus, the American mercenary who was shot down on a supply mission to U.S.-backed rebels in Nicaragua, filed a $35-million lawsuit Tuesday against his former employers, claiming that they left him broke and alone to face mounting legal bills and a hostile public.
The Los Angeles Superior Court suit names Iran- contra figures Richard V. Secord and Albert A. Hakim and three corporations that Hasenfus claims employed him with the government's backing to deliver arms to Nicaragua.
Hasenfus said in his lawsuit that he was induced to begin flying the dangerous missions based on representations that the company that hired him, Corporate Air Services, was run "right out the back door of the White House."
But both the U.S. government, against whom Hasenfus plans to file a separate claim, and Corporate Air Services have backed down on promises to pay the tens of thousands of dollars in expenses Hasenfus and his family incurred during his three months in captivity in Nicaragua, the suit alleges.
"There's no question that he's been the brunt of the entire scandal," said his attorney, Brian R. Strange. "They're in terrible financial condition, they're about to lose their house, they're getting threats to their children at school. . . . I think their lives are shattered."
Hasenfus, 46, of Marinette, Wis., was the lone survivor of a C-123 transport plane shot down last October over southern Nicaragua while trying to drop arms to the rebels. Three other crewmen, two of them Americans, died in the crash, while Hasenfus parachuted to safety.
Hasenfus announced after his arrest that the operation was one of 10 he had participated in which he understood he was working for the CIA. The incident was one of the triggers of the congressional inquiry that eventually linked Secord and Hakim to a White House-backed effort to deliver arms to the Nicaraguan rebels.
In his lawsuit, the former steelworker alleges that Corporate Air Services was linked to Southern Air Transport, a former CIA-owned cargo transport firm, and Secord and Hakim's firm, Stanford Technology Trading Group International Inc. The suit identifies Hakim and Secord as owners and shareholders of Corporate Air.
Spokesmen for Corporate Air and Stanford Technology could not be reached for comment Tuesday. An attorney for Southern Air Transport, Robert Beckman, said he had not yet seen the lawsuit but said he knows of "no basis for any such claims by Mr. Hasenfus against Southern Air Transport."
Southern Air has in the past denied any connection with the Hasenfus plane, but has acknowledged that its co-pilot, William B. Sawyer Jr., was one of its employees until April, 1986. The downed plan's pilot was carrying a Southern Air identification card.
In his lawsuit, Hasenfus alleges that Southern Air regularly handled ticketing operations for Corporate Air during his past trips to El Salvador. Southern Air paid for Hasenfus' room at the Holiday Inn in Miami, and supplied at least one of the planes utilized by Corporate Air, the lawsuit alleges.
Hasenfus claims all three companies are responsible for his capture by Sandinista troops, supplying a dilapidated aircraft for the mission and forcing Hasenfus to buy and ship his own parachute.
"Mr. Hasenfus was forced to parachute from the plane but was ill-prepared to protect himself from capture as a result of Corporate Air's failure to provide fundamental survival equipment such as a compass and radio," the lawsuit claims.
The lawsuit also seeks damages for the U.S. government's failure to support Hasenfus after his arrest and reimburse him and his wife, Sally, a co-plaintiff in the suit, for the huge costs of mounting a legal defense in Managua.
"During the months of his incarceration, Mr. Hasenfus was continually confronted with statements by the United States government and others that denied any association with him and further stated that he was possibly a dope smuggler or gunrunner," the lawsuit complains.