Ron Howard has signed on to direct “Mena,” based on a script by Gary Spinelli that tells the story of Arkansas’s most notorious criminals, Adler “Barry” Seal. It’ll be the second film based on Seal; Dennis Hopper played him in a 1991 TV movie called “Doublecrossed.”
Too bad an Arkansas screenwriter (where you at Jeff Nichols and Graham Gordy?) didn’t get on this first. It’s a rich tale:
For several years in the early 1980s, while based in Mena, Seal flew his personal plane — he called it “The Fat Lady”; at nearly 300 lbs., he was “The Fat Man” — in the service of Colombian drug lords like Jorge Ochoa, and Pablo Escobar, who controlled nearly 80 percent of the cocaine in the United States at the time. By 1984, Seal later testified, he’d earned between $60 and $100 million smuggling cocaine into the U.S. for the cartels. In as few as three years, Seal later testified, he imported $3 billion to $5 billion worth of cocaine.
In 1984, with charges pending against him in Florida, Seal sought to make a deal with the U.S. attorney in Fort Lauderdale, but the U.S. attorney wasn’t willing to let Seal off for informing on the cartel. So Seal flew his Lear Jet to Washington where he met with members of a White House task force on crime headed by Vice President George H.W. Bush. Days later, with the backing of the task force, Seal began cooperating with the DEA.
He also worked with the CIA. In June 1984, the CIA installed hidden cameras in Seal’s cargo plane, which Seal flew to Nicaragua, where the cameras captured cocaine being loaded in the plane. Months later, the Reagan administration leaked the hidden camera photos to the media, identifying those loading the cocaine as leaders in the Sandista government, opposed at the time by the U.S.-supported Contras.
The leak exposed Seal to the cartel. In Feb. 1986, he was killed by Colombian nationals while outside a Louisiana halfway house.
Mara Leveritt has written compellingly about Seal in the Arkansas Times over the years. Her cover story from 1992 is a good place to start. Another one with some relevance today: “What does Asa Hutchinson know about Arkansas’s biggest drug smuggler?” During Seal’s time in Mena, Hutchinson served as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas.