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California and the West

Collector Faces Federal Inquiry After Seizure of Scud

Weapons: He says nothing improper was intended. But Customs wants to know why the missile, shipped into Port Hueneme, was still operational.

September 29, 1998|NICK GREEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

PORT HUENEME — It was supposed to be a dud Scud that would be the latest addition to a sizable collection of military hardware on a Portola Valley ranch.

But the missile turned out to be operational and the collector, a 48-year-old investment portfolio manager named Jacques Littlefield, suddenly has to answer questions in a federal investigation.

The missile was seized as it passed through the Port of Hueneme.

Littlefield describes himself as an ordinary guy with a taste for gizmos, not some kind of a front for a terrorist group.

"Hopefully they'll come to the conclusion that, one, it wasn't live, and two, that nothing improper was intended," he said Monday.

"I'm hoping that when they get all the information together, I'll convince them I'm a good guy."

U.S. Customs Service officials, who are conducting a joint investigation with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, aren't questioning Littlefield's innocent intentions. But they still want to know why the missile made infamous by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War came into the country operational except for fuel and a warhead.

"No one at customs believes he's anything but a hobbyist," said spokesman Pat Jones. "But there's still an investigation going on. . . . The guidance system was intact and the engine had not been destroyed in the very specific fashion in which the engines must be destroyed."

Officials are concerned because the Russian-made missile is capable of delivering an 1,800-pound warhead.

The 37-foot-long, 5-ton green machine rolled off a cargo ship from England on Aug. 24 along with such luxury vehicles as Jaguars and Land Rovers.

Then it sat for a week in a secure area of the port before customs officials got around to looking at it, port spokesman Kam Quarles said.

Littlefield bought the Scud--his second--from the Czech military. The first also came through the port three months ago.

Customs officials said Littlefield's first missile was a different model that had apparently been satisfactorily "demilitarized."

Meanwhile, Littlefield is regretting that his passion for adding to his collection of more than 100 pieces may turn into a federal case.

Littlefield's collection has generated a fair amount of attention over the years. Special effects wizards for "Saving Private Ryan" came to his ranch to record the sounds of various military vehicles.

"I would be collecting mining equipment if there were any way of getting ahold of it--it's too heavy," he said.

Of the missile problems, he said: "I wish the whole thing would go away."

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