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By Charles Lam
Photo courtesy Jesse TrentadueTen years after the Oklahoma City bombing—years that have included crumbling towers and color-coded terror alerts—U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) says he wants to reopen the case of what was, at the time, the worst terrorist attack on American soil.
Four years after the execution of "lone-bomber" Timothy McVeigh, Rohrachacher wants to use his House Committee on International Relations to reopen the government's long-closed investigation. He's hinted that his suspicions involve formerly classified FBI files that suggest that the government knows more about the bombing than it has so far acknowledged, and that the FBI may be covering up the fact that the tragedy might have resulted from an FBI sting operation that got out of control.
"There's a lot of questions that need to be answered," Rohrabacher declared in a May 7 interview with Fox News. "And what bothers me is that the authorities just seem to be just so dedicated to keeping the book closed."
Rohrabacher failed to respond to interview requests for this story, and his staff refused to comment—"Why don't you get a real job," said a Rohrabacher aide.
But Jesse Trentadue, a Utah lawyer who grew up in Westminster, claims Rohrabacher not only believes in a wider conspiracy but believes the FBI played a role in the bombing. Furthermore, he said, Rohrabacher's suspicions involve the mysterious McVeigh accomplice, John Doe 2—a sketch of whom was released and then withdrawn by the FBI shortly after the bombing—and Trentadue's brother, who died mysteriously inside his cell at the Federal Transfer Center (FTC) in Oklahoma City 10 years ago.
That story begins in June 1995, just two months after the bombing, when immigration authorities arrested Kenneth Trentadue for driving drunk as he crossed into San Diego from Tijuana. As the Weeklyfirst reported in Nov. 1997, Trentadue was an ex-heroin addict who'd served prison time for robbing banks. Since he had had violated his parole, he was flown to Oklahoma City's FTC for a parole hearing Aug. 18. Two days later, prison guards found him hanging from a bed sheet twisted through a perforated ceiling vent—the first time anyone had died within the confines of the FTC, which was supposed to be a suicide-proof prison.
Paramedics were called to the scene but were refused immediate entry. By the time they gained entrance, Trentadue's body had been moved to an infirmary and his cell had been wiped clean. Prison authorities claimed surveillance cameras that should have recorded the suicide malfunctioned that night. Oklahoma's chief medical examiner confirmed Trentadue had died of acute asphyxiation, but contradicted the prison's claim that he hung himself, in part because his corpse was covered with bruises, cuts and boot prints.
By late 1997, when Jesse Trentadue's efforts to win a Justice Department investigation had still gone nowhere, he sued the federal government for intentional infliction of emotional distress. At first, Trentadue figured his brother had mouthed off to a prison guard and had been beaten to death. He believed FTC officials were simply covering for their guards. Later events made him suspect a deeper conspiracy.
Alden Gillis Baker, a fellow inmate, was a chief witness in the case. He swore in a deposition that he heard Trentadue scuffling with guards, then heard "a lot of beating going on" followed by moans. "I heard, like, sheets being ripped," Baker added. But in August 2000, before he could appear in court, Baker himself was found hanging from the ceiling of his prison cell at Lompoc Federal Penitentiary. Although a judge awarded the Trentadue family $1.1 million, the government appealed, and the Trentadues haven't received a penny.
Several months after his brother's death, Trentadue says he got a call from an FBI agent who said his brother was murdered because he fit the profile of a member of a white supremacist group allegedly robbing banks to fund anti-government terrorist attacks. "I blew it off because I thought he was a nut," Trentadue said.
But in early 2001, he got another message. "I got a message from [Timothy] McVeigh," Trentadue said, one that was passed to him by a third party Trentadue refused to name. "[McVeigh] said that when I saw your brother's picture and heard what happened to him, I knew the FBI killed him because they thought he was John Doe 2," the person said.
Numerous people have been named as possible matches for John Doe 2, but Trentadue says McVeigh's message referred specifically to Richard Lee Guthrie, a member of the white supremacist Midwestern Bank Bandits, which the FBI charged with robbbing banks to fund terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Guthrie looked remarkably like Kenneth Trentadue—five-foot-nine, powerful upper body build and a dragon tattoo on his arm.
Arrested in Cincinnati in Jan. 1996, Guthrie pleaded guilty to 19 robberies and was sent to prison in Kentucky, where he wrote a letter to the ColumbusDispatchsaying he had plans to write a book. But on July 12, he was found dead in his cell, hanging from a bed sheet. When Jesse Trentadue saw a newspaper article about Guthrie's apparent suicide, he says it renewed his determination to probe his brother's eerily similar death.
"Over the years, I'm getting all this resistance from the federal government," he said. "I'm figuring they wouldn't do all this to protect a couple of guards. Then I get this message from McVeigh about Guthrie and look at the description of John Doe 2, and I piece it together."
Last year, Trentadue received leaked FBI documents linking Guthrie to a white supremacist compound based in Elohim City, Oklahoma. He used those documents to force the FBI to turn over its files from the bureau's investigation of the Midwestern Bank Bandits—files that proved the FBI had informants inside Elohim City, and that they knew McVeigh had called the compound just days before the Oklahoma bombing.
Trentadue says full release of the bureau's files will prove the FBI knew about the Oklahoma City bombing in advance—and could have done something to stop it.
"This was a sting operation run amok; it went too far," he says. "Those teletypes are smoking guns."
On Jan. 28, Trentadue was visiting his mother in Westminster and took copies of the teletypes to Rohrabacher's district headquarters. Just weeks later, Rohrabacher made the stunning announcement that he was reopening the Oklahoma City bombing investigation.
"Rohrabacher was alarmed," Trentadue says. "He said, 'If these things are real, they implicate the FBI and the government of the United States in the greatest act of terrorism in the 20th century."