Armas’ Penultimate Chapter
Armas Falls On His Sword for his Wife
“I have to look at the client, and his desire for closure and certainty”. With these words and more, Mr. Ed Garland spoke to the arrangements today which allowed his client, money laundering drug dealer and Crime Boss, Mario Armas to strike a Plea Deal, in return for Armas’ testimony against others in his Criminal Enterprise. He will serve at least fifteen years, and pay back over one million dollars to the federal government, through the forfeiture of properties seized. Sentencing will take place on December 20, 2007, at 10:00 am.
Although the government’s first witness testified under cross examination by Garland, that Julie Armas knew about the drug business, and helped to plan a means for getting back the 1.14 million dollars lost in a Phoenix, Arizona drug exchange gone sour, Garland said, “Julie never knew anything about his conduct”.
Part 5 of the Formal Plea Agreement specifies that “The United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia agrees not to bring criminal charges against the defendant’s wife, Julie Brown Armas, related to activities alleged in the instant Indictment (04:06-CR-72-RLV). This provision specifically excludes all crimes of violence”.
But should it ever come to light that Julie Brown Armas knew about the burglary, then she could still be prosecuted. Since it was her best friend, Buffy Tarvin who alerted the Armas’s to where in Buffy’s mother and step-father’s house the 7 million dollars were kept, it seems a good possibility that she may yet face charges.
Julie Brown Armas also gets to also keep property she owned with Armas, not specifically tied to the criminal enterprise. Item #12 reads in part, “The United States agrees not to seek forfeiture of any interest held in the real property by any innocent owners as provided by law, including any interest held by Julie Armas that was not acquired with funds product by the illegal conduct set forth in the Superseding Indictment”.
However, the whole Plea Agreement is contingent on Armas’ cooperating fully with the government’s continuing case. At any time the government feels that he is withholding any evidence or testimony, the government can rescind the Plea Agreement, and continue the prosecution of Armas.
And what else could come down the pipe? Well, for starters, we know that Armas has bragged about his influence over the former Sheriff. We also have seen evidence submitted in court last week of monies being run through the account of former Floyd County Attorney Wade Hoyt’s law firm. But we also heard tapes of how Mario Armas controlled the DA.
RomeNewsByWatson.com reported prior to the trial, that District Attorney Leigh Patterson had accepted campaign funds from Armas, and during the trial, we heard how Armas had to pay Wade Hoyt, III, $12,000.00 to take to Leigh Patterson to talk to he and Armas about dropping charges against drug dealer Jimmy Collins.
But, we learned of a new twist this afternoon. In their comments and official press release this afternoon, the government said that this case was initiated by the local DA’s office. (See Breaking News).
So, perhaps District Attorney eventually had a hand in dealing the final blow to Mario Armas. Sure, the robbery occurred late in 2004, after she had already refused to go after Bob Saylors or former Floyd County Comptroller, Al Leonard. But perhaps the attack on the Tarvin’s was so brutal that she could not possibly ignore the overwhelming evidence that Armas was not all he wanted locals to believe he was. As she left the Federal Court House today, District Attorney Leigh Patterson told reporters that there were many more people involved, and much more to come from this case. There is a Pollyanna part of this reporter which wants to find out that Patterson has been working all along to bring Armas and many bad folks to justice, nobly ignoring criticism about her. I just do not know.
In another bit of interesting information shared by Special Prosecutor Lisa Tarvin in court during the Plea Agreement hearing, she notified Judge Vining that if the trial had continued, we would have heard testimony from Dr. Joe Walstadt that after the 2003 drug deal gone bad, Mario Armas admitted to him that the monies had been lost in a drug deal.
Last year during my investigation of Armas, I noted to a number of people that it appeared that Dr. Walstadt and his wife, Marti Berry Walstadt, began to disengage their association, at least through real estate, with Mario Armas sometime after 2003. On page 5, first paragraph of the initial June 26, 2006 report specifically related to Armas, delivered to the FBI and the IRS, I noted this trend to of the Walstadt’s to disengage in their real estate ventures with Armas. I chalked it up to the properties being slums properties, which I assumed did not set well with the Walstadt’s.
So, my faith has been restored in at least one of the elements of this whole investigation, (the Walstadts), and perhaps, maybe, possibly, District Attorney Leigh Patterson. (The jury is still out on that one).
Finally, Special Prosecutor told reporters that Justice had been served to the citizens of Rome, Georgia, who knew all along what Mario Armas was. She also thanked the press, (although I think she meant the Rome News Tribune and RomeNewsBYWatson.com, as we were the only two press entities covering the trial), that her parents had enjoyed the coverage, and felt as if they were sitting in the court room every day.
I would also like to officially go one the record, that as last year, when the Rome News Tribune knew of the indictment prior to its being unsealed, when they held their cards close to their chest, to prevent hindering the Federal Government, both RNT reporters present all this past week, specifically gave instructions that today’s Plea Agreement was not to be published until after the hearing was concluded, making it an official deal.
Friday Evening Post
ARMAS Has Contempt for Rome
Sorry there was no lunch update, but I attended the funeral of the mother of a dear friend of mine, held at Thankful Baptist Church. For at least a little while, during the court’s lunch break, I was able to shake of the greed and violence of misdirected lives, and immerse myself in joyful worship, and celebration of a life well lived and given back to the community in which she lived. What a blessing.
The following comments by Mario Armas were captured on tape on March 31, 2005, a few months after newly inaugurated Sheriff Tim Burkhalter revoked Mario Armas’ bondsman license:
About plans to move:
“We’re talking about moving to Florida, and do that business, ten times that much business, he can bring in that “SH - T”.
“Rome is a little freaking town”.
“They don’t support nothing around here”.
“Everybody in town jealous as hell of me. Everything is too much politics. I was doing 75% of the bail bond business”.
About Dr. Joe Walstadt: (And I would say this is a plus for the Walstadt’s)
“I tell him, (Dr. Bob Naguscewski) about my business with Joe. I tell Bob about everything. I don’t like to do business with negative people. Negative, Negative, everything negative”
“His wife is saying ‘NO’ - in business you don’t tell somebody you do business and you don’t mean it”.
“They like me, they like Julie, they can’t stand Joe”.
“Yeah, he never had no power. He always work FOR someone”.
About the Broad Street Shoe Shop:
“He ain’t no good” and later “He do a Shi _ _ y job”.
The Friday morning part of the trial was off and running, with Cowboy/Horse Tainer Talmadge Green still on the stand. In fact, Green and the tapes recorded by FBI Agent Charles Reed and DEA Agent Tim Spears, dominated the day until Judge Robert Vining dismissed jurors for the long, Columbus Day weekend.
Most of the tapes were conversations in which Talmadge Green was able to steer Mario Armas to one of several topics, which included mentioning Jimmy Collins’ marijuana business and “weed” business for which Armas needed Green to help recoup losses, and how getting weed across the border is difficult now days.
In fact, one of the tapes includes a phone call on a speaker phone, which Talmadge sets up between himself and Collins for Armas’ benefit, without telling Collins that Armas is listening in. Of course, Collins knows Armas is listening in, because that is part of the whole sting operation. During the conversation, the weed and marijuana smuggling business, as well as details of problems with smuggling marijuana, are discussed openly between Collins and Talmadge. If there had been any lingering doubt to anyone who has been present during these five days of trial, that somehow Mario Armas was not aware of the business he had invested in with Jimmy, was related to drugs, then that doubt evaporated this morning.
Another topic, which dominated the afternoon hours were tape after tape in which Armas and Green discussed at great length and in great detail, possible “Stories” in case any law enforcement came after Green. Over and over Armas instructs Green to play dumb. “You don’t know Sh_t” was a phrase repeated more often that I talk about my grandchildren.
Armas was obsessed with Green and Collin’s both, NOT using his name over any telephone conversations - and well he needed to be. The feds were tag teaming Green and Collins to peel the onion.
Part of the ruse was the fed’s giving Green a fake police detective’s business card, and instructing Green to tell Armas that the detectives had gone looking for Green at his ex-wife’ home. Green’s feigned fear that Armas had ratted him out for the 7-Million dollar burglary here in Rome, was the foundation for Green to engage Armas in lengthy alibis and cover stories, all caught on tape.
At one point, as Green and Armas are discussing why Armas did not pay him his cut for getting Jimmy Collins to start making payments, Armas seems caught of guard that Green knows Collins came to see and pay him. But, he tells Green that he had to pay the first $12,000.00 to his attorney, (which we know from ledgers and checks seized, is Wade Hoyt), to “take to the DA, so that she will sit down and talk with them about Jimmy’s case”.
In an earlier tape, we hear Green and Armas, who are riding together, come upon a couple of police. Armas explains to Green that the first one is one of his cops, and the second cop is scared of Armas.
As the cop, owned by Armas, approaches, they exchange very derogatory comments about the second cop. Armas then asks the first cop, whom he owns, if he wants to do the job they have discussed, or if he, the cop is scared. The cop says he is not scared, but that he has been out of town a lot lately. The specific job is never mentioned, and no introductions are ever made to identify who the cop is.
But this is not all Green manages to get out of Armas.
Green quizzes Armas about how he has so much cash, enough to give Jimmy Collins over a million dollars to invest in weed. Green asks Armas how he got around the IRS. Armas explains that because his father was the Counselor General to the United States, from Guatemala, and that as such, the family had Diplomatic Immunity. Armas explains that they used to smuggle in millions of dollars to the United States, in suit cases, which were never searched.
It gives the terms Détente and International Diplomacy a whole new meaning.
During breaks in today’ trial, several spectators at court discussed with us various elements of the 7 Million Dollar Burglary. Some of them were familiar with Parkey Tarvin, and had no problem imagining that he had seven million dollars in illegal monies stashed at his ex-wife’s home here in Rome. And we already know about a good friend of Julie Armas’, Mario’s wife, who had loaned them several million dollars. But when Armas lost that money, in part because of the Arizona kidnapping/drug deal gone bad, Buffy Tarvin’s father, Parkey, cut her off.
This loss of an easy mark led Mario Armas to come up with the burglary plan, which when carried out, was done in a brutal fashion. Carlo Jackson and Omar Lee terrorized Buffy’s mom and step father, tying them up and duck taping their mouth. Both are lucky to have survived.
The Trial will resume again on Tuesday morning.
Thursday Evening Posting:
The Horse Whisperer
“Talmadge Green is a cowboy who looks like Robert Redford”. That was one of witness Jimmy Collins’ observations shared over the last two days. If the rest of Collins testimony is as accurate as this observation, then Mario Armas should be afraid….very afraid.
Except for the fact that Talmadge Green has a very cowboy manner of speaking, and his voice is deep and gravelly, you would think you were watching Robert Redford play out a cowboy character on trial. In the first minute he begins to speak, you are drawn in to this open, honest, disarmingly simply man. Not simple in intellect, but in mannerisms, and airs, or lack there of. One immediately gets the impression that with Talmadge Green, what you see is what you get.
Talmadge is a World Champion Barrel Horse rider, and is the first to ever, (perhaps only to ever), make over a million dollars from his winnings in the sport. He is a four time national champion, with the NBHA - National Barrel Horse Association. By trade, he is a horse trainer from South Carolina, but spends most of his time on the road, except for this afternoon. Talmadge Green took the stand late this afternoon to talk about his relationship with Jimmy Collins, Mario Armas, and his involvement in the 7-million dollar burglary planned by Mario Armas.
His story about events are not unlike Jimmy Collins, although his is from a different perspective. He first met Jimmy Collins in Augusta Georgia, at the President’s Cup Competition. A mutual friend, Scott Brown, introduced them, because Jimmy and his girl friend, Katie Cash, were looking for a Barrel horse to buy. Talmadge Green sold and trained horses.
Green was living in Marshall ,Texas back then, but after a divorce in 2002, he moved back to Georgia, to be close to his kids and ex wife, who had moved to Georgia. He was looking for another sponsor, to join Watson’s Ford in Mississippi, and 4-Star of Oklahoma, and since Carl Black sold the luxury end Bloomer horse trailers, it was a natural fit. They sponsored Green, and he came to the Carl Black trailer lot in Hiram three days a week. In the rodeo business, you don’t get much more famous than Talmadge Green, and so he was a good draw for Carl Black Trailer business.
But while he worked in Hiram, he lived in Rome, Georgia, and got to know Katie Cash, who worked for the Owens on their farm.
Talmadge Green does not use drugs, and has never been in the drug business. He did not know for a long time that Jimmy Collins was in the marijuana business.
Tarvin: Did you know what business Mr. Collins was in?
Green: “At first, no. Later I called and said, I don’t wanna know your business. Your business is your business. - I just knew it wasn’t a bail bonding business.
Green: “Cause all his bonding business was out in Arizona. Plus, I know people in the bail bonding business, and they don’t spend money like Jimmy did”.
Jimmy did not meet Mario Armas until one day when Kevin Redstrom sought Green out, and told him that he need his help, because something scary had just happened. Without telling Green about the marijuana deal gone bad out in Arizona, Kevin did manage to convey to Green their mutual good friend, Jimmy Collins, owed Mario Armas money. Because Redstrom was caught in the middle, Armas and two thugs had picked him up at Carl Black one day, threatened to kill him, unless he managed to get Collins to repay the debt to Armas.
All Talmadge Green needed to know was that one friend needed help, and another possibly could provide that help. “I went outside and dialed Jimmy on the phone. I told him, ’You need to help Kevin cause he’s under a lot of pressure, and this money you owe Mario Armas got Kevin real scared”.
Awhile later, Talmadge Green got a call from this mysterious Mario Armas, who offered Green 10% of whatever Jimmy Collins paid him back. “I said I wasn’t interested in the money, but I wanted to help my friend”.
During that conversation, Green learned that Mario Armas lived in Rome, like he did. They began talking from time to time, and soon Dr. Joe, (Walstadt) and Armas bought a horse, Magical Drifter, and sponsored Green and the horse in Barrel Racing. Talmadge even convinced Walstadt and Armas that they should help the Owens establish an Equine Center here in Rome, like the one in Perry, Georgia.
(Note: Magical Drifter was tragically killed in a freak lightening strike later).
Tarvin asks Green to talk about the first time Armas mentioned the 7-million dollar burglary: “We was at the Antique Mall, and we went to the back where it was quiet”.
Green lays out much of the same detail which Jimmy Collins has already described, with a few minor variances. Armas told Green that the cash in the safe was between 6- 9 million, and that it belonged to an Atlanta Gambler, who kept the money at his ex-wife’s house about 10 miles Northwest of Rome. Armas tells Green that because the money is illegal, no one would call the police. Armas also assured Green that the man of the house went fishing almost every afternoon, and that only the wife would be at home.
Finally, Armas told Talmadge that if he would find someone to set it up, that Armas would let Talmadge and his people keep half the money.
Talmadge essentially told Armas what Collins had, that he was not familiar with that kind of work. “But I did call some people, who came up and looked at the house, but they didn’t like it”.
He then told about how he knew where the house was, about how he had met Armas at the Antique Mall one day, and how Armas drove him out to the home. Both Collins and Green described the home as being at the end of a cul-de-sac.
When asked by Tarvin, why if he had no experience with this sort of work, he agreed to get involved.
“It was a lot of money”.
As Talmadge continues, we hear a little different take on who set this whole thing up. Collins alleges that Talmadge first contacted him, and that from there Talmadge and Collins’ long time friend and marijuana associate Carlo Jackson, plan the heist.
But Talmadge says he did call Collins about it, that it was Jimmy Collins who made all the plans, including setting up a meeting for Green to meet “These two guys” at Papa Does off of I-75.
Like Collins explained this morning, Green outlines the day of June 28, 2004. Talmadge Green and Jimmy Collins drive to the Wal-mart located in Rome on 411, to meet the two guys. Earlier, Collins has identified them as Carlo Jackson and some guy whose name was “Omar”. (Omar Lee).
Both Green and Collins tell how they see the other two walking out of Wal-Mart carrying flowers. They have purchased Van Magnets to make a sign which says “Flowers”, and are planning to pose as a flower delivery service. The two vehicles caravan out to the home northwest of Rome, and Green and Collins wait while Carlo enter the residence.
Green said that they were inside much too long for the easy and specific instructions Armas had given them as to where the two safes containing the cash were.
When Carlo and Omar finally came out, and down the drive way, they left, and Collins and Green followed.
Both Collins and Green told how when they got to the location near where the Hospital is in Rome, (they do not specify Redmond or Floyd), that all of a sudden the first vehicle, with Carlo Jackson and Omar Lee, is surrounded by law enforcement. Collins and Green head off for Atlanta, and do not look back.
This all occurred on June 28, 2004. Tapes recorded last year, refer to Mario’s “Owning” the retired Sheriff. Testimony from Collins and Green today about when Armas first approached them with this fantastic 7-million dollar deal, have Armas bragging about owning the Sheriff at that time, in April/May of 2004, (Tommy Rickman). And Green gave testimony about meeting “Charlie” in 2004, who worked for the Sheriff back then, and also worked “for” Armas. He is very specific in his testimony this afternoon. He says, “Not the current Sheriff, but the Sheriff back then. Charlie was the Sheriff’s assistant, and he helped him on his campaign back then, (2004).
It should also be noted that one of the current Floyd County Sheriff’s campaign platforms, so to speak, was tied to the relationship between former Sheriff Tommy Rickman and Mario Armas. Current Sheriff Tim Burkhalter had arrested Armas many times for spousal abuse of his former wife, Anna, who owns Anna’ Deli. When Sheriff Tim Burkhalter took office in January of 2005, he immediately revoked Mario Armas’ Bonding License. Mario came to the courthouse, and threatened Sheriff Tim Burkhalter, who had him escorted off the premises.
So, in my mind, I am thinking, that only the two guys who had been inside the home during the burglary, are surrounded by law enforcement cars. Armas has been bragging about how he owns the Sheriff and the Rome Police, (Not all of them of course). And none of the money is ever discovered. So, where’s the beef? What happened to all of that money?
Finally, as we leave you with that thought, we give you one more bit of testimony today, from Jimmy Collins, which was stumbled upon by Defense Attorney ED Garland when he was cross examining Jimmy Collins. In the legal profession, one of the cardinal rules of trial attorneys is that you NEVER ASK A QUESTION that you do not know the answer to.
Today, on cross, Garland was quizzing Collins about a meeting he had with both Julie and Mario Armas, after they renewed their association again. They met at the Buckhead Barnes and Noble, and then ate the Border Crossing Restaurant. Garland asks many of his questions by forming them as statement, and he stepped in it when he said something to the effect of, “Now during your conversation with Julie and Mario, Julie Armas never discussed the marijuana business with you, did she? Isn’t that correct.
It opened the door for Jimmy Collins to explain that Julie Armas not only knew and discussed her husbands “weed” business, but that on that particular day, she actually sat there in the restaurant and helped kick around plans for getting the 1.15 million dollars back which was lost in the kidnapping episode out in Arizona. Ed Garland was stunned. He tried to get the horse back in the barn, but it was too late.
Thursday’s Lunch Posting:
The Orifice for the Biblical Word for a Donkey.
Today’s trials started out with the government producing on the projector screen, a copy of the ledger found during the October, 2006, government raids on the Armas residence and N&A Properties. The ledger showed a payment by Lonnie Merrin to “Wade H” on behalf of Mario Armas. First, however, the government showed copies of two checks Collins had signed, one made out to Lonnie Merrin, for $12,000.00, and one which he had originally left blank.
After viewing both the checks and the ledger, Special Drug Prosecutor Lisa Tarvin asked Jimmy Collins, witness for the government, if he recognized the ledger. He said that it was not his, but he knew what it was for. He explained that Mario Armas told him that whenever he, Collins, made a drug payment to Armas, that he had to pay it through his attorney, Wade “H”.
The government then produced a piece of paper with hand written notes on it, also seized during the raids last October, which contained various notes scribbled on it. Collins testified that it was not his, but he was able to make sense out of it. As he deciphered the information, it seemed chillingly as if this evidence was a private investigator’s surveillance notes on Jimmy Collins’ family, for Armas.
Notation: “Mary Ann Collins”
Collins: “That would be my sister”.
Collins: “That would be my mother’s address”.
Notation: “1-son, two teens
Collins: “That would be my little boy and my two children who are teens”.
Collins: “That would be Nico, my daughters’ mother.
Collins: “I don’t know what that is”.
Notation: “Mike Bowser”
Collins: “ He’s the General Manager , the head of Carl Black dealerships. Of all of them. He’s the number one man in charge”.
The government then went in to the testimony about the 7-million dollar burglary planned by Armas, for Atlanta gambler and book maker, Parkey Tarvin’s home, here in Rome, Georgia. (See yesterday evenings posting, below)
When the Defense started its cross-examination of Jimmy Collins, Ed Garland began in a mild, and very methodical process. I was about to change my mind about Mr. Garlands’ effectiveness as an attorney, as I was quite hard on him in an editorial observation I included in yesterday evening’s update. But as his cross examination dragged on, he belabored the point that Jimmy Collins was a career criminal, a fact which is undisputed by both the Government and Mr. Collins himself.
But at one point, in discussing the time period immediately following Mr. Collins’ release from a five year or so sentence in Virginia, as Mr. Garland tried to drive home the point that Collins got back in to the marijuana smuggling business, he made a comment about Collins getting back on the road again to Arizona. Garland then asked Mr. Collins if he ever played that song, “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson, when he was traveling on his drug smuggling trips to Arizona.
It was so classless, it was so inappropriate, that Mr. Collins just dropped his jaw. The government objected, and Judge ordered that the question be struck from the record, and then Judge Vining said something which I could not quite make out, but relayed the Judge’s obvious displeasure with Garland’s comment.
So, Mr. Garland has moved from the unprepared, disorganized column in my opinion, to the “Orifice of the Biblical Term for a Donkey” column.
However, Garland’s cross examination did clarify things for this reporter on a time line.
In the tapes played yesterday in court, taped in spring/summer of last year, (2006), Collins and Armas discuss the “Retired” Floyd County Sheriff which Mario claimed at one time to have “owned”.
In testimony today, about the 2004 conversation on the bench outside of the Rome Antiques Mall, in which Collins alleges Armas first approached him about the 7 Million Dollar Burglary, Armas allegedly tells Collins that he owns the current Sheriff, (in May/June of 2004), and the Rome Police Department, as well as most of the judges.
Almost a year later, in 2005, when Collins is arrested for the warrant which Armas had taken out in 2004, he appears before Judge Tammy Colston for his bond hearing. When he is denied bond, he assumes that what Mario Armas had told him the year before, sitting on the park bench, must be true.
My colleagues at my competitor, Rome New Tribune, included the reference to Judge Colston in their on-line story last night, but I had not heard it on the tapes yesterday, and questioned whether they were accurate in their description of the taped conversation. They in fact must have been. Reporter Mike Gellatly told me this morning before court that he heard the name “Tamera” when they were talking about the judge, and knew that was Judge Tami Colston. That may have been the part I could not quite make out in my quoting of the dialogue. So, my hat is off to Mike Gellatly at the Rome News Tribune. I owe him a beer, and since he is originally from Scotland, I better make it a Guinness .
More this evening.
Wednesday Evening Posting:
Judge Vining Will Allow Testimony of 7 Million Dollar Home Burglary
Most of today’s trial centered around tape recorded conversation, either of phone calls or face to face meets between witness Jimmy Collins, and Mario Armas. On one of the tapes, Armas brags about his influence on the DA, and refers to the DA as “Her” but does not name a name. (See Wednesday Lunch Break, below).
After lunch, more tapes were played and then dissected with the aid of transcripts and Collins’ testimony. Some tapes were worse in quality, some better than this morning’s, but on several of the tapes, Mario Armas tells Collins repeatedly that his attorney is keeping a ledger of the drug payments Collins is paying to Armas. Of course, Monday we learned that one of the items seized in federal raids at the Armas residence and the N&A Properties, was a ledger book, showing payments from yet a third drug dealer, to Armas, paid through former Floyd County Attorney, Wade Hoyt.
But the big news today was the ruling by Senior Judge Robert Vining, who before lunch ruled that at that time, the government had not connected a burglary directly enough to the d
rug conspiracy to allow it into testimony. However, late this afternoon, Special Drug Prosecutor Lisa Tarvin stopped the proceedings and said, “Your Honor, at this time we would like to make a proffer outside the presence of the jury”. A proffer, in legal terms, is the offer of proof of what the evidence would be if the witness were allowed to testify.
The jury was excused until 9:30 tomorrow morning, and after they left the court room, the judge heard the testimony of Jimmy Collins, for the record, about a burglary that was arranged by Mario Armas.
Government Prosecutor Kurt Erskin lead Collins through a very methodical, point by point examination of the details. According to Jimmy Collins:
1. When Jimmy Collins first met Armas at Armas’ boat on Lake Allatoona, Armas told Jimmy that if the drug deals went well, he had access to somewhere between 7 and 9 million dollars which he could invest.
2. Mario Armas approached Jimmy Collins, sometime after September 2004, when they began to speak again, (after the kidnapping in Arizona), but prior to his arrest on charges Armas filed. They sat on the bench outside of the Roman Antiques Mall, where Armas told Collins about a Book Maker, (gambling bet taker), he knew, by the name of Parkey Tarvin from Atlanta, who had somewhere between seven and nine million dollars worth of cash at his home.
3. Armas explained to Collins that if he could get some people, that because Armas had control of the security system, he could be sure that the alarms would be off, making it safe for the home to be burglarized.
4. Armas told Collins that he, (Armas) owned the Sheriff there, and that he could make it so the police did not come anywhere near the residence.
5. Armas also told Collins that because the money was made from illegal book making, that no one in the family would file charges, if something went wrong, and they were caught.
6. Collins said that he did not know anyone who was in to that sort of work, but that he would think about it.
7. A week or so later, Collins declined Armas’ offer.
8. Later, Talmadge Greene, a friend of Collins, whom Armas had used as a mediator in the ongoing dispute of the monies lost during the kidnapping incident, contacted Collins, and said that if Collins would give him the contact information for Collin’s business associate in the drug trade, Carlo Jackson, then they could break in to the house, and this would help clear up the one million dollar debt Armas felt Collins owed to him.
9. Jimmy Collins gave Carlo Jackson’s contact information to Talmadge Green, and then actually accompanied Talmadge Green, Carlo Jackson and a third man to the home of Book Maker Parkey Tarvin.
10. Collins did not go inside, or help with the burglary, but followed behind after the job was done, only to see the others pulled over and arrested.
After cross examination of Collins by Armas’ Defense attorney Ed Garland, Judge Vining determined that the government had indeed connected the burglary directly to the drug conspiracy case, and told the attorneys that the jury could hear the testimony in the morning. It was a huge coups for the government, today, and is largely due to both methodical, logical, non-hysterical presentation of evidence by the prosecution team, coupled with the credibility of their witness, Jimmy Collins.
Since this is being posted under Feature Stories, I will make an editorial observation:
I have only seen Defense Attorney Ed Garland in opening statements, and on some brief cross examinations. But what I see is a disjointed, erratic, scattered defense. Mr. Garland’s questions are long, rambling, and illogical. He seems unprepared, and almost as if he is not even paying attention. He emphasizes things in a loud and angry manner, and while this tactic may have impressed lesser educated, lesser exposed juries of decades ago, it comes across as weak and unsubstantial now days.
As one who studied classical music, I can equate it to an old joke, “If you can’t sing well, sing loud” (ly). If you have no defense, yell and pound your fists and look angry.
Wednesday Lunch Break Posting:
Armas Brags About His Influence with the DA During Taped Conversation
Testimony by Jimmy Collins resumed this morning, in which Collins again reiterated the kidnapping incident he began telling yesterday, leading up to the scenario which caused Mario Armas to file false burglary charges against Collins in April of 2004. (See yesterday’s two postings, below).
The United States also presented photo evidence of the type of trailers, purchased by Collins at Carl Black’s in Hiram, Georgia, to show how and where in the trailer, drugs were stashed by Collins when he transported the marijuana back from Arizona, to Georgia for Armas’ drug business.
Photos also were entered in to evidence which showed the two primary places drugs were unloaded for the Rome-Rockmart area, both at the home of Lonnie Merrin, as well as the Haney’s “Arena, right across the street from Lonnie Merrin’s home in Rockmart, Georgia.
The last hour or so before the lunch break, the Government played the first of many taped conversations between Mr. Collins and Mario Armas. Much of the tape was not clearly audible to me, or, covered conversation not related to drug dealings.
However, there was significant conversation, taped during an April 6, 2006 meeting at the Havana Cigar Shop on Broad Street here in Rome, which were clearly two way negotiations for a planned drug run out to Arizona.
Two key elements discussed during this conversations was Collins’ retelling of how the former Sheriff introduced himself to Collins, on behalf of Armas, and how this did not make Collins feel comfortable. Collins said that the Sheriff told him he did not need to worry, because he was the retired Sheriff.
They also talked several times about the pending criminal charges brought by Armas against Collins. Armas assures Collins numerous times that he does not to be worried, that he has influence with the DA. One particular interchanges is:
Collins: You’re going to talk to your attorney, and they’re going to handle it the right way, Okay?
Armas: I’m going to take care of it with the DA…..(inaudible)…I know her.
Collins: I know you know her. What about that F _ _ _ ing judge?
At another part of the conversation:
Collins: I understand your DA is …..(inaudible to me).
Armas: I do what I do. I’m telling you I can take care of this.
At this point, Collins tells Armas that if he ever runs for Mayor, he wants to contribute, because he knows Armas has such power and control in Rome.
It should be noted that neither the name of the retired Sheriff, nor the name of the female DA is ever mentioned by Armas.
I will try to get a copy of that transcript and get the exact details for later this evening.
Tuesday Afternoon Testimony:
“I wanted to leave…if I’d have known…well, I don’t do business with Columbians. I just don’t mess with Columbians or Cubans”.
These are the words Jimmy Collins, long time marijuana dealer spoke about his first encounter with Mario Armas, at a boat slip on Lake Allatoona, in early 2003.
Jimmy Collins, wearing an orange Department of Corrections jumpsuit, took the stand this afternoon, as a witness for the United States in the Mario Armas trial. Prior to getting in to the meat of the matter, Special Drug Prosecutor Lisa Tarvin grilled Collins about his reasons for testifying against Armas.
Tarvin: “Did you receive any agreement with my office?”.
Collins: No ma’am”.
Tarvin: “How long have you been cooperating?”.
Collins: “November 2004”.
Tarvin: “At any time did I or any member of my team make representations to you that your words would not be used against you?“
Collins: “No ma’am”
Tarvin: “Have any promises been made to you?“
Collins: “No ma’am”
Tarvin: “Has any credit for your cooperation for the charges against you ever been promised, or has anyone ever promised you anything?”.
Collins: “No Ma’am”
Tarvin: “Were you paid anything?”
Tarvin: “…other than travel expenses, cell phone, what about your cell phone bill?”
Collins: “Yes, my cell phone and travel…”
Tarvin: “What about dinner, cokes, candy”
Collins: “Yes ma’am”
Tarvin: Based upon that, are you cooperating?”.
Collins: “No ma’am”.
So, why was Collins cooperating? In his own words, “I was angry”.
Tarvin: “Why were you angry?”.
Collins: “Because I had been arrested”.
Tarvin: “Who were you angry with?”.
Collins: “Mario Armas”.
You see, in April of 2004, Mario Armas, who according to Collins, had been engaging Collins to purchase marijuana in Arizona, for Armas’ drug operations back here in Georgia, took out a Warrant for the arrest of Collins, on charges of Theft by Conversion”.
According to papers read by Tarvin in opening statements, Armas’ own words alleged that he had legitimately loaned Collins money, for his Bail Bondsman business,
but that Collins had refused to pay him back, an amount of $1,143,000.00.
But according to Tarvin, the government’s tape recordings of both phone conversations, as well as face to face meetings between Collins and Armas, paint a wholly different picture. Tarvin read transcripts during opening statements:
Armas: “This is what my lawyer understands - that you have a bail bonding business
which is cash - no f _ _ _ ing property bond”.
Collins: What about ________?”
Armas: “Don’t bring up that name again. You cover story is that a Brazilian skipped the country. Don’t change the ethnicity, cause I’ll screw it up”.
The testimony was detailed, and exhaustive. Collins elaborates how, as a Bail Bondsman, he met a convict, Carlo Jackson, with whom he eventually became engaged in regular marijuana trafficking, because Carlo was frustrated with the lack of consistency in the quality of “weed“ one could purchase here in Georgia. Then, when he started dating Katie Cash, who was on the rodeo circuit, Collins eventually met Kenny Redstrom, who sold trailers for Carl Black. Collins purchased several horse trailers, including a “Bloomer”, which according to Collins is like a house. “It has living quarters, satellite television, king size bed”.
Collins learned in 2002 that after a difficult breakup with his girlfriend, Kenny Redstrom had fallen on hard times and needed quick cash. Collins offered Kenny Redstrom, a quick turn around on an investment, and, without asking details, Redstrom borrowed money to invest with Collins.
When Redstrom received a fifty percent return in about eight days, he brought in Lonnie Merrin, of Merrin Steel in Cedartown, Georgia. They borrowed and invested $30,000, without asking questions, and in a couple of weeks, saw their $30,000.00 principal returned, plus another $15,000.00 ROI.
“When I got back to town, they told me that they had a money man they wanted me to meet, but that he was serious. They said, this wasn’t a joke, that this was the real deal…
They gave me a name, ‘Mario’.”.
Collins describes how they set up the first “Meet” with Mario, at Lake Allatoona. “Anytime I met with anyone, you’d have to get naked. I’d search you, and I’d let you search me. If that didn’t bother them, we’d do business. If it did, that was the end of the conversation”.
Collins tells how he met Lonnie Merrin at the Texaco at the Red Top Mountain Exit. He said that Lonnie told him, “My man’s already at the marina”.
“Mario’s boat was already at the slip. As I started down the dock, he pointed to him. A forty year old plus man, Columbian or Cuban, by his dress. Wearing Gucci, sunglasses, ponytail, all Miami Vice…nice looking man”.
“I wanted to leave…if I’d have known…well, I don’t do business with Columbians. I just don’t mess with Columbians or Cubans”.
“We got in the cove, and started talking. He pulled up his shirt, and the first thing I saw was a gun. We did the whole thing, all the way down to our underwear”.
Collins continues, and details how the first drug runs went, but that how each time, the monies sent by Mario Armas were always short, by about $20,000.00. Collins was not pleased, because he had been dealing with essentially the same people for thirteen years, and none of them ever had a problem with his orders or his cash payments coming up short.
In May of 2003, things started going bad, and because Collins had to renege on drug orders, because of Armas’ shorting the cash, he had to make a switch to a different supplier, located in Phoenix, instead of his home turf of Tucson, Arizona. During that drug buy, the supplier held his long time friend and business associate, Carlo Jackson, as well as his regular drug supplier, “Mary” hostage, until Collins could deliver and make good the cash payment for the drugs.
“Carlo calls and says, ‘Boss man, these guys want to see the money’, and so I tell him, ‘No Deal’. About ten minutes later, Carlo calls, and says, ‘Boss man, these guys got guns’.
“I tell him to put Mary on the phone, and she’s all squalling, and she’s talking about her kids, and how these guys are going to kill David and me…”
“It was a bad phone call”.
It is after this drug transaction gone sour, because of Armas’ own cheating ways, that Armas takes out a warrant on Collins.
Opening Statements and Government’s Exhibits in Armas Trial
Opening statements began this morning in the Armas Trial, by Special Drug Prosecutor Lisa Tarvin, for the United States, and Ed Garland for the Armas Defense Team. But it was the identification of several elements of the Government’s Exhibits, discovered during the execution of the Federal warrants last October, of the Mario Armas residence, at 409 East 4th Avenue, and N&A Properties, located at 540 Broad Street, Suit A, which yielded surprises today.
Government Prosecutor Kurt Erskin walked Special Agent, FBI, Charles Reed, through the various Government Exhibits which be will used during the trial, to officially enter those items into evidence.
Government’s Exhibit # 5 is an envelope labeled “Lonnie Merrin -P” indicating payments from Merrin, to Armas. Indeed, item 5-a is a schedule of payments by Lonnie Merrin to both Mario Armas, personally, as well as to N&A Properties. Because the nature of the relationship described in the government’s case against Armas, supported by Lonnie Merrin’s testimony, was one of a drug trafficking arrangement, and because payments on monies Merrin borrowed to purchase drugs on behalf of Armas, were paid, in part to N&A Properties, allows the government to seize all of the holdings Neurologist Bob Naguscewski and Mario Armas owned through N&A Properties, because they became part of the Criminal Enterprise.
But even more stunning was Government’s Exhibit # 16a and 16b. GE’ Exhibit 16a is a file folder, labeled “Jimmy Collins”, who the admitted drug dealer/business partner with Mario Armas in his Drug Enterprise. It was Jimmy Collins, himself a former pawn shop dealer and bail bondsman turned drug trafficker, who engaged convicted felons Lonnie Merrin and Kenny Redstrom, to associate Mario Armas’s business with his own. It was Mario Armas’ money which financed the enterprises from 2001 through last year.
But GE’s Exhibit 16b is a schedule which lists payments by Jimmy Collins, to Mario Armas, on loans for the drug purchases, which identifies that at least for one payment of $12,000, on May 3, of 2005, Collins laundered the payment through a payment to “Wade H”.
Readers will recognize this as local Rome attorney, and former Floyd County Attorney, Wade Hoyt, III, who was involved not only with Bob Saylors and Mario Armas, but also represented former Floyd County Comptroller Al Leonard in his efforts to sue me when I was exposing Bob Saylors and himself in the corruption scandal at the RFPRA.
It was Wade Hoyt who walked in to a local restaurant with Bob Saylors and Mario Armas, in the summer of 2005, which prompted several people to contact me and warn me about the association. And it was Wade Hoyt who was one of the first to respond to the Government’s search of the Armas residence last October. In fact, Jerry Duke of RomeNewsWire.com, posted a beautiful picture of Wade Hoyt and Bob Saylors leaving the Armas residence during the execution of the Search Warrant.
Was Wade Hoyt brought in to the Armas drug trafficking operation to help launder his money? The Government’s key exhibits suggest so.
Armas Jury VOIR DIRE
I almost did not recognize him as he walked in to Judge Vining’s Federal Court room this morning, sporting a gray suit, spectacles, and, most noticeably, sans pony tail. Mario Armas could easily have passed for a member of his own legal defense team - a distinguished, graying member.
Julie Brown Armas, tall, beautiful and bright eyed had arrived minutes before, accompanied by her parents and a female companion. She leaned forward eagerly anticipating a glimpse of her husband, whose trial for charges in drug trafficking, money laundering, weapons, and most recently, the designation that he is the head of a Continuing Criminal Enterprise, overseeing at least five individuals.
The Voir Dire, (French derivation of “to see” as in to know the truth), has started in earnest. It is that process for jury selection, or, jury member exclusion, in which both the prosecution and the defense engage in a mini trial of the potential jurors, to determine who is least suited to serve the interests of their position. Twelve jurors and two alternates will be chosen by the end of the day, to be seated to hear the United States case against Armas.
Federal Prosecutor and Drug Prosecution Specialist, Lisa Tarvin introduced members of her team, including another attorney, Mr. Kurt Erskin, as well as Federal Agent Chuck Green, DEA Agent Tim Spears, Treasury Department Agent John Schmarkey and FBI Agent Pete Connolly.
Questions are asked about employment status, marital status, parental status and experience and or relationship to members of law enforcement. Tarvin asks potential jurors about their experiences watching crime and law enforcement shows. Overwhelmingly, almost all seem to watch the Law and Order series, (NBC), as well as the CSI (CBS), series of shows on a regular basis. Tarvin underscores her question to these men and women about whether they understand that these shows and the capabilities to present evidence are fiction, and completely different from what might be presented in a real court room.
What Lisa Tarvin does not ask, Mr. Armas’ defense attorney Mr. Ed Garland, of the Atlanta law firm Garland, Samuels and Loeb, does asks. Mr. Garland tells the group that Mr. Armas, Mario Doninelli-Armas, became a citizen about 25 years ago, and that he is the child of an Italian mother and a Guatemalan diplomat. He wants to be sure that potential jurors understand that his client still speaks with a little bit of an accent. One concern he questions the group about is whether or not this will prejudice them against his client.
Garland wants to know if any one knows the witnesses the defense will be calling, which include Rome attorney Bill Byington, senior partner in the law firm Cox, Byington, Corwin, Niedrach, Smith and Twyman, and husband of Congressman Phil Gingrey’s Rome Office Manager, Janet Byington.
He wants to know if anyone knows Bob Saylors, (Former Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation Authority Executive Director, forced to resign after this reporter revealed serious violations of ethics and law in his administration); Ronnie Mixon and Bill Temple of Toles Temple and Wright Real Estate; Susan Baker McCoy, Charles Ledbetter, Jennifer Chambers of Exit Realty, Louis Jones, Shea Ray, or Carl Black, all of whom the defense plans to call in as witnesses.
He goes on to ask about another list of witnesses, most of whom are either already convicted, or whom the defense has painted as con-men. Jimmy Collins, Lonnie Merrin, Kevin Redstrom, Carla Jackson, Talmadge Green, Dr. Joe Walstadt and Dr. Robert Naguscewski.
After Ms. Tarvin and Mr. Gardner complete their questions for the first 14 potential jurors, Judge Robert Vining takes a break, and promises to begin the same process fo rthe next set of fourteen potential jurors. It promises to be a long and tedious process.