Sunday, August 31, 2008


DAVID HUDAK MUMBLED. THE WORDS WERE coming out, but so low that the microphone inches away from him on the witness stand failed to pick them up; so fast that the court reporter had to ask him to repeat himself again and again; so loaded with physics-class jargon and government-agency acronyms that jurors were left shaking their heads.

“. . . mmmm, uh . . . energetic materials . . .mmmm, destructive devices . . . RDX . . . DoD . . . TAA, mmm . . . .”

Hudak slumped in his seat. He’s six-foot-two but didn’t look it up on the stand. On a jailhouse diet of rice and beans, he had lost weight, stature, and energy.His blue suit hung loosely on him, his hair had thinned out, and in a town where the sun shines close to 350 days a year, his skin had taken on a jailhouse pallor.

He was looking put out and acting put out, not what you’d expect from a guy who had spent the last fifteen months in yellow jumpsuits at the Estancia Prison, just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was diffident with the lawyer who was pulling out the stops to defend him, and patronizing towards the attorney heading up the multi-million-dollar federal prosecution.

Only occassionally did Hudak seem genuinely interested. His back straightened, for instance, when he was presented with questions about the properties of nitroglycerine. He must have felt the way he used to when he was lecturing or presenting a paper to the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators. Likewise, Hudak perked up while he described the eight- and nine-figure potential of a business that had started in his basement in Vancouver, when he was talking about his development of the weapon of choice for war in the twenty-first century.

The rest of the time, though,Hudak seemed blase while he testified, less involved than his mother, Sandy, who sat in the courtroom transcribing the proceedings, and not nearly as strident as his father, Bob, who stopped passersby during recesses to tell them his son was being railroaded. It’s hard to imagine that
David Hudak could be so matter of fact: He had repeatedly been denied bail; he was facing a laundry list of charges, including possession of ordnance and training foreign soldiers in secret U.S. military tactics.

Convictions on each count would land him in prison for fifty years without parole.Making matters worse, the people prosecuting him were employed by a hostile foreign state, namely, the United States of America in the post-9/11 era.

DAVID HUDAK WOULD BE THE FIRST GUY YOU’D hire to sink a retired battleship or knock a massive wall of snow off a mountain. There was no dispute that he was an explosives expert. You could read about those skills on his resume. Beyond that, no one could agree on a thing.

In Hudak’s own mind, he was an inventor, businessman, and autodidact. “I didn’t go to MIT for physics or Cornell for business,” he says, as a point of pride. His father had been a pilot and then a fireman. The older of two sons growing up in Vancouver, David Hudak had planned to follow his father into the air, but he came to specialize in explosives instead.He made a study of, as he says, “blowing shit up.”

Hudak had worked up a revolutionary portable explosive package and named it the BEAST (Breacher’s Explosive Access Selectable Tool). It looked like a ground sheet for a sleeping bag. It could be carried around a bayonet. And it could blow a made-to-measure hole in the hull of a hijacked plane with little
collateral damage.

Hudak also developed Hydro Cut entry frames, which go through brick walls like a cookie cutter through fresh dough. Whatever you needed to penetrate with precision – door, glass, boat, or aircraft – Hudak had a breaching device for the job.

He founded two companies – Hydro Cut in Canada, and High Energy Access Tools (HEAT) in the U.S. – that by the late nineties, distributed the BEAST and the other products to foreign-military and law-enforcement outfits and trained soldiers to use them. By bringing in an A-Team of veterans from the U.S. Special Forces, Hudak’s company offered one-stop counter-terrorism training, a growth industry in jihad-happy times.

“People accuse me of being an egotist,” Hudak admits. The point is that others haven’t held him in as high regard as he holds himself.

To the military hard-asses he recruited, Hudak was no visionary.He was a wannabe in charge of soldiers whose boots he couldn’t even shine, guys who inhabited the shadowy, never-reported-on world of Black Ops.

The lawyers defending Hudak portrayed him as an absent-minded professor. Privately, they regarded him as a pain in the ass. They told him – probably more than once – that, if he knew as much as he thought he did, he should try defending himself.

To the U.S. Attorney General’s office, he was “a greedy Canadian” who broke the law by possessing military ordnance, bombs that could be fired with shoulder-mounted rocket launchers; by shipping explosives abroad without federal permits; by training foreign troops in restricted military services, stuff right out of classified files, without approval from the State Department. The federal prosecutors were inclined to believe that his supposed counter-terrorist operation was training foreigners who might take up arms against the U.S. The prosecutors wouldn’t make that case to the jury, though. They figured they needed far less to lock Hudak away for the rest of his life.

THIS IS A STORY ABOUT THINGS APPEARING one way in the light and another way in the shadows – counter-terrorists became terrorists; demolition charges became bombs; and applications for licences became admissions of high crimes.

In many ways, though, this is a story about two friends getting into a fight. Hudak’s misfortune was precipitated by a blow-up with Steve Mattoon, the world’s meanest, best-connected bastard, a guy whose three tours in Vietnam were mere tune-ups for the netherworld of Black Ops.

Hudak testified that he couldn’t nail down when he first met Mattoon – back “in the late eighties or early nineties,” by his reckoning –but he remembered that Mattoon phoned him in Vancouver, out of the blue. “I had heard of him and he had heard about me,” Hudak said. “Steve was known as a SWAT instructor and had a background in explosive methods of entry. There are not a lot of people in explosive breaching.”

Mattoon thought that they could do business together, so Hudak drove down to Fort Lewis, Washington, near Tacoma, where Mattoon was training police officers in assorted combat arts.

Mattoon was a man’s man, a soldier’s soldier. He was more than macho. Anyone who stars in lethal-force self-defence videos could hardly be low on testosterone. Hudak’s plan was to eventually get Mattoon to run an explosives-training facility in the United States (and lend his well-known name to it). Subconsciously, though, what Hudak really wanted was to hang with Mattoon, to please Mattoon, to be Mattoon. Hudak had gone to flight school, competed in quasi-military combatshooting competitions, and been around guys in uniform his whole adult life.Now he would be running with a legend.

Mattoon had little use for civilians, but devices like the BEAST – and therefore Hudak – drew him in. Hudak’s specialty was breaching aircraft, knocking out a door without injuring hostages. In other hands, explosives were a wrecking ball. In Hudak’s hands, they were like a sushi knife.

Mattoon recognized right away that inventions such as the BEAST could change everything.

He understood that a new kind of war was going to be fought in the new century.He could visualize Chechens holing up in a Moscow theatre and sniperfire raining on Gis in the streets of Baghdad. The BEAST was meant to defuse those very moments. U.S government, law enforcement, foreign military – they’d all want the BEAST. Was it worth millions? Only if you were thinking small.

For a few years, Hudak and Mattoon built HEAT from the ground up. They recruited retired Special Forces experts with the promise of more money than they’d ever earned in the service. Some, such as explosives expert Mike Payne, had already come up to Canada to work with Hudak. Others, like sniper Frank Fish, heard second- or third-hand about the outfit.

In 1997,Hudak and Mattoon rented a space at the former Walker Air Force Base in Roswell, New Mexico, remote but ideal for business. The town of 50,000 in the state’s southeast corner, famous for its visits from little green men, is home to one of the largest aircraft scrapyards in the United States. In Roswell, HEAT had a ready supply of formerly airworthy shit to blow up.

Hudak and Mattoon did nothing on the hush-hush. They made friends with the mayor, the police chief, city councillors. They gave the local FBI agent a set of keys to HEAT’s offices. They were written up in the Roswell Daily Record. They didn’t want the townies calling 911 whenever they heard a bang.

Hudak and Mattoon put out the word about the training they could offer.An explosives unit from the Canadian military flew to Roswell for training. So did forces from Singapore and the Republic of Ireland. The Israelis came, and their million-dollar bill was footed by a defence fund financed by the U.S. government.

HEAT’s business outgrew the space in Roswell, so in early 2002 Hudak lined up a spread about forty minutes west, 8,000 acres of hills bleak enough to simulate conditions in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Mattoon was pitching HEAT hard. Genuine overheard conversation: “Give me the King of Jordan. Tell ’em it’s Mattoon.”

Next thing you know, by the spring of 2002, Hudak is in deep negotiations with the United
Arab Emirates, lining up a breakthrough contract, US$12.8-million for everything on the HEAT menu: explosive breaching, sniper training, work with night-vision tech, as well as some strategic stuff out of the Fort Bragg playbook.

Throughout 2002, Hudak was bouncing back and forth between the UAE,New Mexico, and Vancouver. There were long stretches during which he went without seeing his wife, Leslie, and his two young sons, but Hudak figured they’d be sitting pretty after this deal. He wasn’t going to pocket the whole $12.8-million, mind you A third of that was going to be spent on “shit to blow up.” Another chunk would pay the sixty people on staff. Still, he assumed other Arab allies of the U.S. would follow the UAE’s lead. By his projections, HEAT was going to draw three times as much revenue within a year. “I saw myself sailing the Pacific for a month or two with my family,” he says.

David Hudak was both a big-picture and small-picture guy.He courted the Emir in Abu Dhabi one day and hired a janitor in Roswell the next. Often, he didn’t get around to the stuff in the middle. Like paperwork.

HEAT had a lobbyist named Hank Lavery in Washington to advise the company on any federal red tape. Lavery reassured everyone that few forms and licences were needed for training the troops from Canada, Singapore, Israel, and Ireland.

Hudak depended on Mattoon more than Lavery. Hudak trusted his friend with clearing HEAT’s training – formally or informally – with the big hitters at the State Department and the Department of Defence. He also trusted Mattoon to know who they needed to know. Mattoon always assured him that “we’re with the good guys.” Mattoon knew everybody who counted. He went fly-fishing with Dick Cheney, for crying out loud.He had Colin F-in’ Powell’s home number. One time, HEAT was short some sheet explosives. Mattoon made a call and U.S. Marshals showed up with some, as though they were bringing a casserole over to the neighbours for a potluck dinner. It was easy to be impressed.

HEAT’s business mission was riding on Mattoon. If he bailed, things could come undone. And that’s precisely what happened.

JUST EAST OF THE NEW MEXICO METROPOLIS of Hondo, you happen upon Tinnie, the point at which the desert hills give way to the desert flatlands and the site of HEAT’s ranch. Here you get a different picture of David Hudak than those offered in Albuquerque’s federal courthouse. In Tinnie, he was seen as too friendly to be reviled, too pitiful to be scorned, too comical to be forgotten.

“It might sound unkind, but folks ’round here will tell you that David was the biggest sucker ever to blow into Tinnie,” says a woman named Ruby, the proprietor of the Tinnie General Store and Texas Embassy B-B-Q.

Tinnie’s townspeople will talk about Hudak but won’t give their names. It’s not just because of their usual suspicions about outsiders; it’s that many had done work for Hudak and had never been paid. The Feds blew out of town once they “secured” the property with padlocks and tape – not nearly enough to keep out the locals, especially when they had a grievance. Thus, HEAT property, whether it’s furniture, appliances, or hardware, can be found in many nearby residences.

Ruby knew one contractor who might be a good source of info about Hudak, but she says he won’t talk “because he’s still driving a HEAT truck that he drove off the ranch the day before the Feds came to town.”

Many locals didn’t like what HEAT was up to. “It wasn’t safe, blowing up explosives a half mile from the highway,” one farmhand says. “This is a big hunting area. All that stuff would be killing deer and scaring them off.”

Still, the townies seemed to like Hudak. They still laugh at the way he tried to do everything himself: driving a bulldozer and blowing two engines in a week; giving the keys to the bulldozer to another novice who
immediately rolled it. “Green Acres with explosives” was how one local described it. Nonetheless, they thought he was a regular guy when he kicked back, had a few beers, and worked through a pack of smokes.

Mattoon was another story. The locals could see how Hudak was drawn to him. “Mattoon was the real-life GI Joe action figure that David had when he was a boy,” Ruby says.

“Mattoon tried to intimidate us, saying how many guns and explosives he had,” continues a young man behind the counter at the general store. “I just told him, ‘Boy, you don’t have any idea where you are. We all got guns and explosives.’ ”

“It was sad, the way Mattoon and them treated David,” Ruby says.“David would bring in his guys and they would order up food and beers and he’d pay the full ticket out of his own pocket. As soon as he was out of earshot, they’d be making jokes about him and saying how they were going to squeeze him out of the business.”


It began with the trainees, about three dozen in all, from the United Arab Emirates. They were looking to blow into Roswell early. Their passports and visas were a mess. Were they who they said they were? The brass at HEAT sure hoped so.

The rush had all the HEAT staffers wondering if they could fulfill the contract with the UAE. They didn’t have all the required high-tech equipment. The paperwork was underway but not approved. Hudak rounded up his top men for a straight up-or-down vote: Go or no? A unanimous go. These guys didn’t win medals by “waiting for paperwork.”

A complicating issue: David was fielding calls from HEAT’s financial officer in Vancouver. The company’s cash flow was non-existent. Contractors weren’t the only ones stiffed. The instructors were missing paydays. (You want to know pressure? Tell a guy with a sniper’s rifle that his cheque is in the mail.) Still, the instructors knew that fulfilling the UAE contract was their best chance of getting paid.

The trainees were unhappy, but that was to be expected; princes’ sons used to sitting on palace commodes were going through training exercises in the middle of the desert, having to dodge scorpions while taking a dump. More ominous, though, was the UAE command’s dissatisfaction with the program. They claimed they weren’t getting the promised goods. They threatened to stop payments and pull out.

It got worse. HEAT started to get calls from Lavery. Initially, he was only raising a yellow flag. Some of the training might require approval from the State Department. The UAE brass wanted more, but Lavery was telling Hudak,Mattoon, or whoever else would listen that HEAT would have to scale back until the paperwork was handled.

Hudak’s dreams were in danger of blowing up in his face like a joke-shop cigar. He needed Mattoon to hold them together. And it was at precisely this time that Hudak was starting to get under the pink-coloured Kevlar that is Steve Mattoon’s skin.

On one occasion,Mattoon ordered Hudak away from training because he didn’t have U.S. security clearance. Hudak says he wasn’t alarmed by the fractious atmosphere. “These guys had been trained to fight,” he says.“When they weren’t fighting the enemy, they were fighting among themselves. They’re Triple A-type personalities.” Hudak would sometimes side with Mattoon against Mike Payne and sometimes back Payne against Mattoon.
Still, the dissention was evident. Doris Cherry, a reporter with The Lincoln CountyNews, attended an open house at the Tinnie ranch on June 29, 2002. “You had government and law-enforcement officials there but [HEAT] couldn’t get its story straight,” Cherry says. “Ask two different people there a question and you’d get two entirely different answers.”

It reached a breaking point in July, 2002. There’s no agreement about the cause and some dispute about the outcome. This much everyone agrees on: Hudak, Payne, and Frank Fish were in a trailer on the Tinnie ranch, when Mattoon barged in, enraged.

Mattoon:Who’s running the show?
Hudak: I am.
Mattoon: I quit.
Hudak: You’re fired.

Hudak told the court that Mattoon then took a swing at him. Fish disputed that, saying that if Mattoon wanted to hit Hudak, “he’d still be unconscious.”

The townies in Tinnie recall Hudak walking around with a black eye following the showdown. Mattoon was gone the next day, and that very morning, things went from bad to couldn’t-be-worse.

IF HUDAK DIDN’T GIVE MUCH THOUGHT TO the legal repercussions of Mattoon’s departure, Mike Payne surely did. Payne inherited all the paperwork. Lavery, the lobbyist in Washington, D.C., was now telling him that some of the United Arab Emirates training fell into a “grey area.” He told them to stop training with night-vision tech and to call off the sniper work until they had licences in hand.

Once the cold sweat dried, Payne realized that he was in over his head. He went to the FBI’s offices in Roswell. He made phone calls to officials, the most plaintive of them to Special Agent Gary Ainsworth of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) on August 7, 2002. What Payne intended to be a fact-finding inquiry turned into an interrogation. From the transcript of that call:

Payne: Is this the point where I need to start asking for an attorney? . . . Or is this just conversation? I mean, I’m not getting paranoid but I’m just asking about where we’re going with all this? … It sounds like we’re getting to . . . an investigation.

There’s no transcript of other calls to HEAT, calls from SAIC, a giant in the defence-services industry. With retired generals on its board, SAIC enjoys favoured-outfit status with the Bush administration. SAIC representatives were sniffing around – maybe looking for a piece of the action, maybe to buy Hudak out altogether. Ever the optimist, Hudak believed SAIC’s interest meant that HEAT was on the verge of something big.

Two days after the last call from SAIC, search warrants were executed on the HEAT offices in Roswell and the ranch in Tinnie. Payne found out that he shouldn’t have counted on the ATF agent Ainsworth to tell him to get in touch with a lawyer. Hudak thought that he knew the drill, having been written up for a couple of violations in Canada. He thought he’d get a slap on the wrists. Instead, Ainsworth slapped on the cuffs.

HUDAK HAD BEEFS WITH OTHER GUYS WHO blew out of HEAT in a huff, and there had to be one or two rivals in the business who would have wanted to sic the Feds on Hudak. But alone among Hudak’s former associates, Mattoon had what they call “stroke” down New Mexico way. Elsewhere, it’s known as clout. “If Mattoon made a call to federal officials, they’d follow things up,” said Russ Hart, a retired major in the Marines and founder of an explosives-training business based in Yuma, Arizona. “I’m surprised how hard the Feds went after Hudak.”

In fact, the Feds involved did seem to have their own reasons for running hard with the ball. Timing was bad for Hudak – pieces of the World Trade Center were still being ferried out of Manhattan – but timing was only part of it.

Hudak had made the assumption that the UAE trainees would get State Department clearances. After all, the UAE had granted the U.S. permission to set up military bases within its borders, and several retired highranking U.S. military officers, Mattoon’s pals, were in the UAE working with its servicemen.

No official – not those at the State Department who had spoken to Hank Lavery, not FBI Agent Robin Smith, who checked out the UAE trainees at the Roswell airport, not even intelligence-agency types who visited the Tinnie ranch – ever suggested that HEAT’s freshman class might be chock full of terrorists.

Yet it would have been hard to cast the UAE as entirely “friendly.” The State Department had warily turned down a request from the UAE for training similar to that which HEAT was contracted to perform.Weeks before the raid on HEAT, FBI director Robert Mueller testified before Congress that money that financed the terrorist attacks of 9/11 flowed through the UAE. Federal attorney Mark D’Antonio alluded to this point in a pre-trial motion, noting that the UAE “at least facilitated the banking of funds” for the terrorists.

For its part, the ATF was motivated by a slap in the face. The Bush administration was trying to get all the major players – the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Defence – to throw their shoulders behind the new Department of Homeland Security. The ATF, the redheaded stepchild of federal bureaus even before the Waco and Ruby Ridge debacles, was left on the sidelines. Compounding the misery, the FBI was lobbying to take over ATF’s jurisdiction over explosives. The ATF needed high-profile busts to rehabilitate its reputation, and this case seemed made-to-order: A traitorous Canadian was supplying and training foreign nationals – maybe even Mohammad Atta’s cousins – in explosive technologies that might be turned against the U.S.

Hudak’s father has a simple explanation for the prosecution.“It’s about money,” he says. “The U.S. government wanted the BEAST and this was one way to get it. Get David behind bars and get everything that he has. They wanted to subpoena his computer in Vancouver for this trial and get all his research on the BEAST’s design. They convict him and [SAIC] gets all the contracts that David would have got.”

The elder Hudak’s theory might sound far-fetched, but an ATF agent in a taped interview with Lavery backs the idea that seizures figured large in the Feds’ plans.

Lavery: . . . The money part isn’t important.
Special Agent Barr:Well, actually, it is important to us.
Lavery: Oh.
Barr: It’s very important to us.
Barr: Because we are going to seize the money.
Lavery: Oh. Uh.
Barr: Either in criminal or civil forfeiture, we’re gonna go after the money. So it’s really important to the
Treasury Department of the United States . . . . Basically, if there’s any of these funds out there, United States Customs Service is going after it.

So the U.S.Attorney General’s office, the FBI, and the ATF chased Hudak and Payne. They even threatened to charge Hudak’s wife, Leslie, for her participation as HEAT’s Vancouver- based business manager if she crossed the border to visit her husband. They didn’t go for half-measures. Four federal officials went
to the UAE to interview the students in the HEAT course; others travelled to Vancouver to question everybody who had dealings with Hudak. Timothy Padilla, Hudak’s defence attorney, ballparked the public costs of the trial at US$3-million. But the Feds figured they could recover all of it and more. If they convicted Hudak, they could foreclose on the ranch, seize his other assets, and empty his offshore accounts, which they presumed to hold millions.

WHEN DAVID HUDAK APPEARED IN THE FEDERAL courthouse in Albuquerque for a pre-trial hearing in August 2003, Judge John Conway advised him to think hard about a plea bargain to hedge the risk of a half-century behind bars. Judge Conway gave Hudak a chance to meditate on the decision by denying him bail.

Tim Padilla discussed a plea bargain with his client. Leslie Hudak urged her husband not to take it, but he did mull over the idea of doing, say, three years, so long as he didn’t have to forfeit his assets. “David told me that he needed something to come out to,” Padilla said. “But [the prosecutors] were pushing for six years, all his assets seized. David said he didn’t want to plead guilty to something he didn’t do.”

Hudak’s problem was that Mike Payne, his former right-hand man at HEAT, agreed to do precisely that. The U.S. Attorney General’s office threatened Payne with the same fifty-year stretch that Hudak was facing, but offered him an out: Plead guilty on markeddown charges, roll on Hudak, do a short stretch, and hold onto your army pension. Payne had a wife and six kids back in North Carolina who could use the medical coverage on his pension. After twenty years in the Army, he had become accustomed to following orders, not sorting through options. Federal prosecutors knew from his call to Ainsworth that Payne wanted desperately to do the right thing. And they convinced him that doing his time and selling out his old boss -- a civilian, not even an American – was the right thing to do for his family and his country.

The prosecution’s case largely hinged on Payne’s testimony.He told the court he hadn’t known that State Department-issued licences were needed to instruct the UAE soldiers, but, once he did, Hank Lavery had assured him the approvals were being rubber-stamped. Unfortunately for the prosecution, Payne never indicated that he or Hudak was trying to pull a fast one. “Payne wasn’t too damaging,” Padilla says. “He looked like a fall guy.”

What the prosecution did have was physical evidence: about 2,400 Thermos-sized aluminum canisters filled with RDX, the second-most potent form of ordnance-grade explosives. According to the prosecution’s expert witnesses, these were “warheads” or “destructive devices” or “bombs” designed for use in shoulder-mounted rocket launchers, the type that were downing helicopters in Iraq. ATF Agent Ainsworth testified that the “warheads” were licensed for sale only to the U.S. military and were bought by Hudak “on the black market.” That sounded damning but, instead, it ended up biting the Feds in the ass.

The trial lasted almost six weeks. It featured dozens of witnesses. It featured hundreds of pieces of itemized physical exhibits: deactivated grenades, rockets, Claymore mines, and bombs. It featured 140,000 pages of transcripts and printed evidence for the lawyers to sort through. It featured a judge, Christine Armijo, who had been appointed to the bench by George W. Bush.

It also featured “minders,” observers who sat in on the proceedings. The Department of Defence’s minder looked like he was authorized to kill to prevent classified documents from being aired in court. A young lawyer from an Albuquerque firm was “the lady in black”; she wasn’t about to volunteer her interests no matter who tried to finesse her.

What the trial did not feature was Steve Mattoon. The prosecution didn’t call him. The defence subpoenaed him and intended to call him. “It would have been risky because he refused to talk to us [prior to the trial],” Padilla said. At the last minute, Mattoon informed the court that he intended to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. The jury was told that Mattoon was legally unavailable to testify. “In the end,” Padilla said, “nothing Mattoon could have said would have helped us more than him taking the Fifth.”

As it turned out, the least effective defence witness was Hudak himself. Reciting specs on explosives, describing the tax advantages of setting up HEAT’s offshore accounts, Hudak often lost the blue-collar jury, which Padilla and his co-counsel, Robert Gorence, a former rising star in the U.S. Attorney’s office now in private practice, had stacked with minorities and Democrats. He might have scored regular-guy points if he opened up the way he did down at the Tinnie General Store. Instead, the egotist emerged. When John Crews, the lead prosecutor, asked Hudak if it would have been difficult to rig up the explosive charges into weapons, Hudak responded, “Most people wouldn’t be able to . . . but I could.”

Padilla had told Hudak that if the jury convicted him, it was going to be because the jurors didn’t like him. The defence team considered not calling Hudak, but, in the end, his testimony neither helped his case nor hurt it. Padilla believed it was necessary, though, to open the door to call other witnesses.

Chief among these were four former employees of JRC, once a wholly owned subsidiary of Halliburton, the multi-billion-dollar company that was under the stewardship of CEO Dick Cheney a few years ago and that these days lands government contract after contract now that Mattoon’s ol’ fly-fishing partner is serving as Dubya’s caddy. Back in the eighties and nineties, JRC had contracts to manufacture ordnance for the Department of Defence, including the 2,400 units of aluminum-encased RDX that were recovered from HEAT’s storage magazine.

The first three former employees of JRC –intentionally referred to as “Halliburton” by Gorence during questioning – testified that the charges sold to Hudak weren’t bombs or explosive devices. Though ordered by the U.S. Department of Defence, DoD inspectors had rejected them. Their serial numbers were painted over so they wouldn’t be confused with real ordnance. The employees testified that what was sold to Hudak wasn’t functional, not without fuses or delivery systems. As one juror concluded,“If you had one down in the trenches and were hoping to deploy it, you were shit out of luck.”

A fourth employee of JRC, Mitchell Hambright, reluctantly testified that the charges were sold to Hudak on direct orders from above, on the day that JRC was sold to Tennessee-based explosives manufacturer Accurate Arms. A fax sent by Hambright to HEAT was entered into evidence: It offered 2,400 units of RDX-filled aluminum canisters – described as “charge, demolition” – for a little more than a buck a throw, the price of the box they came in. The fax was labelled “BLUE LIGHT SPECIAL,” an allusion to Kmart’s signature sale. The deal spared Accurate Arms the cost of destroying the charges. Hambright admitted on the stand that the sale was, to his mind, illegal and that he proceeded because he was concerned for his family’s welfare.

The BEAST itself couldn’t have blown a bigger hole in Ainsworth’s “black market” claim. At this point, the lady in black, who had worked on crosswords for much of the trial, started taking furious notes, looking for the world like a minder for Halliburton.

The jury was provided with heaps of evidence regarding Hudak’s attempts to comply with regulations. It heard Payne’s desperate call to Ainsworth, and Barr’s damning admission that the motive for the prosecution was money. The clincher for the defence, however, was Frank Fish.

In the hallway, before Fish walked into court, John Crews put the heat on him to follow Mattoon’s lead and refuse to testify. Fish didn’t blink. Instead, he told the court that he had already stood before a grand jury that did not return an indictment for his involvement in HEAT; those prosecuting Hudak had advised him that he was still a target, and Fish was forced to testify without immunity.

He told the court about contacting his friends in the military to check out HEAT’s reputation before joining the company. He had first met Mike Payne on a tour with the Army in Japan. “Before I signed on, I asked Mike, ‘Is everything State Department–approved?’ and he assured me it was,” Fish said.

As a witness to the “fight” between Mattoon and Hudak, Fish knew best the heat between them. Fish told the court that Mattoon “said he was going to do something after he quit.” Nothing specific, mind you. The jury had to imagine what it would be like to be threatened by a guy who could kill you with his bare hands, with explosives, or, for that matter, a phone call.

It was in cross-examination that the trial’s defining moment occurred: Crews, whose sneering courtroom manner turned off jurors, kept pushing Fish’s buttons. Eventually Fish tired of it and responded with the clinical cool that he needed to pop enemies as a sniper. He told Crews,“I’m trying to answer the questions to the best of my ability, but I resent you suggesting that I would do or even consider doing something against the interests of this country.”

Crews kept on sneering. “Are you finished?” he asked Fish.

Crews had his back to the jury.He couldn’t tell that he was the one who was done.

In his closing statement, Gorence apologized to the jury for frequent interruptions related to the admissibility of evidence that had jurors cooling their heels in the waiting room for hours at a time. But Gorence said he wouldn’t apologize for trying to get as much evidence as possible into Hudak’s defence – a play to the jurors’ sense that they were only getting part of the story. They thought the prosecution’s case was full of holes, the largest being the absence of Steve Mattoon.

At the end of six weeks, the jury deliberated for only six hours: Not guilty on all counts.

When the verdict was handed down on November 25, Bob and Sandy Hudak were overjoyed. “Our other son took his life when he was in his twenties,” Sandy said. “I don’t think that I could have taken losing another son. [A conviction] would have killed us all.”

David Hudak breathed a sigh of relief and told his mother not to cry. The U.S. Marshals in the courtroom told him not to leave just yet; some paperwork needed to be taken care of before they could release his passport to him. Hudak asked Padilla for a cellphone to call his wife. Then he turned to the reporters and said, “I can’t wait to file for my next explosives licence.”

Outside the courthouse, the prosecutors dodged the press. They declined comment other than to say they were “disappointed.” They had to be even more disappointed when they heard that the jury was drafting a letter to the judge presiding over Mike Payne’s sentencing. “If Payne does one day in jail, it would be a tragedy,” said juror Brian McMahon. (Payne is awaiting sentencing this summer.)

As it turned out, the Feds denied Hudak a timely victory lap and sent him a message that his acquittal wasn’t a Get Out of Jail Free card. They held him for six more days on a trumped-up visa beef, kept him from the media, and shipped him down to El Paso, Texas. They finally released him on bail pending an immigration hearing but held onto his passport. The ironic footnote: Hudak’s release was finally granted on the day the incoming prime minister Paul Martin boldly declared that American authorities must respect Canadian passports.

THREE MONTHS LATER, IN FEBRUARY, HUDAK was still in southeastern New Mexico, still waiting for his immigration hearing, trying, he said, “to put my life back together.” Leslie and his two young sons were with him, but this was no ocean cruise. He was rooting around the Tinnie ranch, taking inventory of what little the looters had left behind. He’d already applied for a licence – Singapore wanted a shipment of the BEAST, an order he could fill now that the U.S. government had returned his seized property – but the State Department was taking a lot longer than usual to get back to him.

“Right now, I wonder whether I really want to be in this business any more,” he said after a disheartening day spent walking about the looted compound.

Hudak said there was no going back to Roswell, either. The authorities there had leased HEAT’s former space at the Walker Air Force Base. It was probably for the best. In a town famous for conspiracy theories, Hudak’s acquittal didn’t quell rumours about HEAT. Supposedly, some trainees hadn’t landed at Roswell’s airport. Supposedly, they parachuted into Mexico and were smuggled across the border. Supposedly, they were from some terrorist hothouse in the Middle East.

Jim Bullock is just one of the Roswellians who had a close encounter with suspicious aliens affiliated with HEAT. In the spring of 2002, three Middle Eastern men moved into a ranch house next door to Bullock, a retired teacher who lives near the old air base. “After 9/11, I was keeping an eye with David Hudak, HEAT, and the whole mess. They didn’t send out the Welcome Wagon for him and eye on everything,”

Bullock says. “They wore HEAT jackets leaving for work. One day I took over some bread that my wife had baked. They didn’t volunteer much about [their work], but when I asked them, they said that they were from Jordan and not [the United Arab Emirates]. They said they spent time in Georgia and Virginia before coming out here. Didn’t say anything about flying into Roswell from the UAE.”

Bullock says he didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to them. “They got outta Dodge,” he says. On the day the Feds descended on HEAT’s facilities in Roswell and Tinnie, the three left for work and never came back. They left behind their clothes in the closet and their furniture in the living room. They left the lights on and their neighbours’ suspicions burning.

Out in Tinnie, the townies have always figured there was less – not more – than meets the the missus on their return, but they seem glad enough to have him back. On the record, he can’t talk about any civil actions that might be filed in coming months. He can’t talk about Accurate Arms or Halliburton. He can’t talk about his immigration hearing. He can’t talk about Steve Mattoon. Or won’t. But you can be sure that they’ve heard all about it at the Tinnie B-B-Q.

He will go on the record about some of the things he tells the locals over mesquite and a beer during bull sessions at the general store. He will say that the U.S. Department of Defense would be crazy not to let him train its soldiers, not to prepare them to wage war as it will have to be waged in the twenty-first century. When he gets on a roll, the old resolve is back and even the BEAST couldn’t knock a hole in it – which explains why he went to war in a New Mexico courtroom. And why, in the end, he was more resilient than at least a couple of America’s toughest fighting men.

Footnote: A federal judge threw out Payne’s plea out of court. Hudak’s lawyers filed suits on his behalf against Accurate Arms and Halliburton among others, but according to Timothy Padilla his client “is years away from seeing a dime.”


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