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Unexpected Adventure in Bolivia of Brat Pack Member Emilio Estevez : Drug scare: Incident features false allegations of drug trafficking, an upset film star and a Learjet confiscated by the Bolivians.

July 20, 1990|ALLAN PARACHINI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Estevez, the son of actor Martin Sheen and brother of actor Charlie Sheen, has appeared in such films as "Young Guns," "The Breakfast Club," "That Was Then, This Is Now," "Tex," "St. Elmo's Fire" and "Stakeout." He has also tried his hand as a screenwriter, producer and director.

On June 12, the Estevez party arrived in La Paz. The young actor and his three companions went off to the jungle, leaving the plane's pilot, Ron Freswick, the co-pilot, Winfield Turner, at a hotel. Turner, Estevez said, turned out to have been a classmate of his at Santa Monica High School.

But six days later, according to the DEA's Castillo, a Bolivian informant stationed at the airport contacted American drug agents to report the presence of the Learjet, which had apparently roused the informant's suspicions.

Castillo said the information was passed on to the Bolivian narco-trafficking force, and that American agents routinely ran the aircraft's registration number through DEA intelligence files. In the search, Castillo said, information was discovered tying the aircraft to a single flight--in 1987, between Iceland and Newfoundland--in which the pilot was a person with alleged drug links. The intelligence materials included no mention of the aircraft itself ever having been involved in drug trafficking, Castillo said.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 21, 1990 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 4 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong name--In a story Friday on the seizure of an executive jet chartered by actor Emilio Estevez, Calendar incorrectly identified the president of Bolivia, who is Jaime Paz Zamora.

On June 19, Castillo and a Bolivian embassy spokesman said, Bolivian police collected the two pilots, took them to the airport and executed the vacuum cleaner search of the interior of the plane. In the interim, Estevez and his party had returned to La Paz and, when the pilots could not immediately be located, Estevez said he went to their hotel--arriving about 11 p.m., just as Bolivian police led the two men through the lobby en route back to police headquarters after searching their rooms. The Estevez party was soon invited to join the pilots in custody. Two young Bolivian nationals who had befriended the Estevez party acted as interpreters and turned out to be the sons of influential businessmen, who attempted to intervene on Estevez's behalf, Estevez said.

Later, a Bolivian crime laboratory report--a copy of which was supplied by Lacy--reported that chemical tests on the airplane vacuum cleaner dust found traces of marijuana and cocaine, but not enough to sustain a prosecution.

The pilots and the Estevez party were held at the police station all night, Estevez said. The Bolivian government identified the other members of the Estevez group as Theodoro Stuart Miller and Paul Edward Robinson--both Americans--and a British screenwriter, Pierce Ashworth.

"The only time I really got nervous was when we thought they might plant something," Estevez said, "in our hotel rooms while we were (at the police station), on the plane or somewhere and say it was ours. We just didn't know. It was so unpredictable. They seemed to be making up the rules as they went."

Estevez said the six men were treated well. In fact, Estevez said, they weren't actually questioned--just detained while Bolivian police tried to determine how to handle the incident.

"After a very brief interrogation," said a Bolivian embassy official, speaking on the condition he would not be identified by name, "police decided that the persons detained didn't have any relation with the cocaine and marijuana."

Lacy noted that the seized Learjet was manufactured in 1977 and that his company is the aircraft's second owner. He said the plane is a busy charter property and that tiny amounts of drugs could have been left in the carpeting by previous passengers over the past several years.

Officials of the U.S. embassy in La Paz eventually intervened and, Estevez said, the party was freed the following afternoon. After several days of abortive attempts to have the airplane released, Estevez and his companions and flew back to Los Angeles commercially.

Eventually, Bolivian newspapers picked up the story and front page accounts were published falsely linking the plane to delivery of a shipment of drugs. The ensuing public clamor, Estevez and Lacy said, apparently complicated the process of retrieving the aircraft.

And, Lacy said ruefully, nothing has changed since then. He said he carries confiscation insurance on the aircraft and that his insurance company has begun an effort to retrieve the plane. The DEA's Castillo registered surprise that Lacy hasn't retained a local Bolivian lawyer to assist him. Lacy said the insurance company is attempting to handle the transaction.

"Little help came from the U.S. embassy and U.S. government officials. To anyone's knowledge, this airplane has never been involved in any way with drugs," said Lacy. "The Bolivian drug test indicated a minimum trace of cocaine and marijuana, not enough to prosecute. It is known by the U.S. embassy that five or more Bolivian aircraft were released with higher drug contents."

In an extensive memorandum summarizing the situation, Lacy noted that his company has done charter work for film companies and former Presidents of the United States--who were accommodated, he said, after extensive security checks by the Secret Service.

"What I've sort of been telling people," said Estevez, "is that we went down to Bolivia to research an action-adventure film and I got caught up in an adventure myself."

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