The case ended in a fiasco as the Department of Justice sought to hide the assault from federal lawyers who were supposed to prosecute the cases, federal records show.
The case was called Operation Lively Green, or Operation Desert Blue in the military. The case's targets: more than 70 soldiers, airmen, cops, prison guards and others with access to a uniform, a badge and an official vehicle who were willing to traffic for what they thought was a drug cartel.
The rape has never been investigated; the FBI tried to hide the 2002 sexual assault for more than a year from federal prosecutors, according to a letter written by former U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton to the FBI special agent in charge in Phoenix.
Internal affairs didn't investigate the incident until August 2004, according to a redacted report filed by the Office of Professional Responsibility, released after a Freedom of Information Act request.
Once federal prosecutors learned of the sexual assault, they declined to prosecute cases using the FBI's three informants--Frankie Arvizu, his brother Armando Arvizu and Hal Turner--until an investigation was made.
"Our office will not prosecute any additional cases involving any of these individuals until the circumstances of the Oct. 16, 2002, incidences in Las Vegas are fully investigated," wrote Charlton in the March 2004 letter.
But investigators weren't interested in determining whether the rape happened; records show they only questioned the informants and FBI agents about their involvement. The FBI agents professed to knowing nothing; two of the three informants believed the stripper was unconscious and was being assaulted.
FBI spokeswoman Deborah McCarley said the FBI would not discuss the case until the conclusion of the prosecutions, adding, "It appears you were given some information that misinforms the public." When asked what was inaccurate, McCarley would not say.
Charlton, who was fired by the Justice Department for reasons that were never made clear, declined to comment.
According to Charlton's letter, this is what happened.
Oct. 16, 2002
The cocaine sting was in its second year, and the FBI was targeting 11 public officials.
Being watched by the three informants and two undercover FBI agents, the 11 officials ran a load of 132 pounds of cocaine from Tucson to Las Vegas. The undercover agents paid the officials, with more money to be paid the next day.
Federal prosecutor Jesse Figueroa was part of the team investigating Operation Lively Green. While reviewing the FBI's reports in 2004, he read a curious statement.
One of the targeted officials, military recruiter Darius Perry, "began to admonish all of the other present subjects in the room for their unprofessional behavior the previous evening."
Figueroa asked FBI agent Tim Jacobson about it. Jacobson simply said there'd been a fight in the room, and some of the targets had rented hookers.
March 18, 2004
Three federal prosecutors sat down with Frankie Arvizu and FBI agents Jacobson and Pat Redden.
Frankie began to talk about that October 2002 night. Flush with cash, one of the informants, Armando Arvizu, and two of the targets, Ronricco Allen and Derrek Curry, went to strip clubs. They picked up a woman and brought her back to the suite. She agreed to bang Armando and two of the targets for $100 each.
Frankie told investigators he went downstairs to gamble. When he returned, the woman was bent over a chair and looked like she had passed out. Armando was naked behind the woman; Allen and Curry were naked behind him.
Meanwhile, one of the targets had arranged with a chauffeur to bring hookers to the room. Three hookers arrived; the girls walked up to one of the upstairs bathrooms and started hooking up with each other, then with the targets. At one point, Frankie paid $80 so Hal Turner, the third informant, could have a turn.
Then some college-age girls were brought up. One of the targets gave them some liquor. The girls took one look at the orgy and left.
Frankie said he didn't sleep with any of the prostitutes. But at some point, both he and Armando took out their cocks, sticking them in the ear and by the mouth of the unconscious stripper. Pictures were taken.
Yet another hooker arrived, named Sage. Sage hooked up with the targets, who paid her several hundred dollars. Sage told one of the men to take the once-unconscious stripper out of the room.
The stripper wouldn't leave, and a fight nearly broke out; Sage told her she would beat her up, and the girl left. A Las Vegas police officer came to the room later to recover the stripper's purse.
March 22, 2004
The prosecutors met with Armando and Frankie. Armando confirmed his brother's account, but told prosecutors the woman draped over the chair had not passed out. He said nobody ever paid her.
Later that day, the prosecutors and FBI agent Jacobson called Turner to get his version of events. Turner said he was outside gambling with Frankie. He said when he returned, the woman was draped over a chair, naked, her butt in the air, her anus red and enlarged "like an apple."
He saw Armando and two targets lined up behind the woman as though they "were going back for seconds."
Turner said he checked her pulse to make sure she was still alive. Frankie and Armando were jacking off over the woman's body, he said.
March 23, 2004
Federal prosecutor Jim Lacey, Jacobson and Frankie sat down to talk.
Frankie told the investigators the men in the room were spitting on the woman's buttocks, turning her over so they could see her "pussy." That's when Frankie and Armando posed for pictures with the woman.
The prosecutors had picked up a wiretap of an Oct. 22, 2002, conversation between two of the snitches and two of the targets in the room, Ronricco Allen and Rodney Mills.
Hal Turner: "I about abandoned ship that night because I went over and touched that and made sure she still had a pulse. I was ready to start wipin' my prints off of everything." (Laughter.)
Allen: "I touched that bitch's arm; her body was ice cold. I thought this bitch ..."
Hal: "You touched more than that." (Laughter)
Sept. 16, 2004
According to the internal affairs report, one of the FBI agents in Operation Lively Green told investigators that he began to hear jokes and banter from other agents about the behavior of the men in the Las Vegas hotel room.
"I thought these general conversations, banter and jokes, were just unsubstantiated talk," the agent told investigators.
The agent saw the photographs of the naked woman and "considered them to be personal property (of the informants)," the report states.
The agent could not recall, "but it was possible that the confidential witnesses may have discussed a woman being passed out and a number of guys lined up behind her."
The agent, who is never identified in the report, told investigators that he did not know of the alleged rape until Charlton sent the letter to the FBI.
A second agent was interviewed; he thought the targeted officials, not the snitches, had rented the hookers.
The final analysis from the Office of Professional Responsibility states: "There is no disputing the fact that there were prostitutes in the (room) on Oct. 17, 2002 and that (name redacted) engaged in sexual activity with the stripper. But the evidence does not support a finding that Special Agent (name redacted) failed to report a possible rape or that Confidential Witnesses engaged in criminal activity."
More than 70 people have been convicted in Operation Lively Green, but nobody has received more than five years in prison.
Charlton denied all of the cases involving the informants, and prosecutors never pushed for more than five years, at times agreeing in plea bargains to sentences barely longer than one.
In the end, prosecutors knew the sexual assault would hurt the corruption sting.
According to the internal affairs report, prosecutor Lacey believed the case would affect Lively Green. "The defense might argue that the DOJ and FBI knew or should have known a rape of the stripper took place, and the FBI and DOJ did nothing about it," he told investigators.
Former National Guardsman Francisco Marinez received 15 months in prison and a $3,000 fine. He was a part of the Las Vegas trip, and his attorney argued he tried to help the passed-out stripper when he asked others about her condition the next morning.
Had the defense lawyers gotten together and pushed for a collective trial, they would have asked for a dismissal and likely received it, said Saji Vettiyil, a criminal defense attorney in Nogales familiar with Lively Green.
Individually, the accusations helped minimize the sentences, he said.
"When officers cross a line to become part of the case, the entire case becomes questionable," he said. "Once an officer starts covering up the acts of his confidential informants, he's no different than the criminal he's prosecuting."