Liberia: Fool Gold – Pair of Ex-Convicts, Shady Mining Operation, Controversial Elections
Monrovia – The resurfacing of former convict Leonard Wayne Kragness in Liberia is raising eyebrows, not because of what he did in his past, but his alleged role in the controversy surrounding the alleged transport of ballot boxes and lingering issues casting dark clouds over this year’s presidential and legislative elections in Liberia.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
The resurfacing of former convict Leonard Wayne Kragness in Liberia is raising eyebrows, not because of what he did in the past, but his alleged role in the controversy surrounding ballot boxes and lingering issues casting dark clouds over this year’s presidential and legislative elections in Liberia.
Kragness, an American was the subject of a major 2007 FrontPageAfrica investigation after red flags were raised amid report that the former convict was in Liberia exploring for gold.
FPA has also gathered that an air jet reportedly owned by Kragness was recently hired by the National Elections Commission to aircargo ballots to Sinoe.
Some contentions are being raised that the serial batch set numbers for the ballots shipped to Sinoe are different as compared to the ones for the rest of the country.
Last week, the Supreme Court of Liberia ruled that evidence of fraud during October’s first round of presidential elections was insufficient to merit a re-run, maintaining a runoff duel between the two leading candidates – ex-footballer George Weah and Vice President Joseph Boakai.
Liberty Party’s standard bearer Charles Walker Brumskine who finished third in the first round challenged the results.
The operation was reportedly carried out by Kragness’s business partner, David Corey Tolle, who according to the US-based St. Louis Post Dispatch last year, was the co-owner of a mining investment company that swindled investors out of as much as $1.7 million and sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to repay $526,750.
Tolle’s co-defendant, Christopher M. Cristea, of St. Charles, was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison and ordered to repay $1.7 million.
Prosecutors say Cristea and Tolle promised investors outsized returns from the mining of gold and other precious metals in the western U.S. and West Africa, via their companies Cristol Enterprises LLC and Charis Minerals Inc. Tolle, 45, of O’Fallon, Mo., pleaded guilty Jan. 27 to one felony count of wire fraud.
Shady Mining Operation
FrontPageAfrica has gathered that Mr. Kragness recently concluded exploration work and has established the Sinoe Mining and Exploration of Anchorage, Alaska the United States, with the aimed to do alluvial mining in Sinoe County.
Mr. Kragness has had some problems with the law in the United States and at least two sources confirmed to FPA at the weekend that he is currently being investigated by local security agencies.
FrontPageAfrica has not been able to determined whether Mr. Kragness has the capacity to invest or whether he has been granted license to mine in the country. But in 2007, the Sirleaf government informed the public that Kragness did not have a license to mine.
“It is our understanding that Mr. Kragness has had some problems with the law in the United States.
Mr. Kragness is accordingly being investigated by our Security Agencies. We are also checking his capacity to invest. In short, he has not been granted any license to mine in the country as it has been reported.”
It is unclear now how and why he is engaged in mining operations in Liberia.
FPA has learned that Kragness has ties to Sinoe Mining & Exploration Ltd. said to be owned by two shareholders described as Americo-Liberians. Kragness is reportedly listed as a 42% shareholder and Finda Housine is a 58% shareholder. Leonard is a resident of Liberia, while Finda is a resident of Tampa, FL 33602 USA.
Flying Under Suspended License
In addition to his mining operation, Kragness, also operates Talkeetna Air Taxi, currently owned by Paul Roderick even though his license was revoked in the US.
During a 1994 appearance before the Ninth Circuit Court, in the case Leonard Kragness, Petitioner, v. National Transportation Safety Board and Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration, Mr. Kragness argued that under the applicable statute, he was entitled to a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge in which he could personally argue the merits of his case and the appropriate sanction.
The Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) revoked Kragness’ license pursuant to FAR Sec. 61.15(a)(2), 14 C.F.R. Sec. 61.15(a)(2) (1993). That regulation provides that a pilot’s certificate may be revoked if the certificate holder has been convicted of a federal or state crime involving a controlled substance. Kragness does not dispute that he has been convicted of such crimes.
He was convicted in 1985 on seven drug related counts, including conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana, interstate travel to promote marijuana exportation, and RICO. His conviction was upheld on appeal. United States v. Kragness, 830 F.2d 842, 853 (8th Cir.1987).
The evidence at trial indicated that as a part of his drug business, Kragness had personally flown or arranged for cargoes of marijuana to be flown into the country. Id. at 848-53.
Relying on the details provided in the Eighth Circuit’s opinion affirming, the FAA concluded that Kragness had used an aircraft in the commission of his drug related offenses, and therefore deemed revocation rather than suspension to be the appropriate sanction.
See Kolek v. Engen, 869 F.2d 1281 (9th Cir.1989) (upholding revocation as sanction for Sec. 61.15 violation); Walters v. McLucas, 597 F.2d 1230, 1232 (9th Cir.) (per curiam) (same), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 932 (1979); see also Essery v. NTSB, 857 F.2d 1286, 1291 (9th Cir.1988) (choice of sanction is at the FAA’s discretion).
According to the court, prior to his certificate being revoked, Kragness had an opportunity to submit in writing any response that he wished to make to the government’s charges.
“Kragness nevertheless contends that he was entitled to a live hearing, both because there was a material issue of fact concerning whether or not an aircraft had been used in the commission of the offense, and because such a hearing is required by the terms of 49 U.S.C.App. Sec. 1429(a).1 That statute provides: Any person whose certificate is affected by such an order of the Secretary of Transportation under this section may appeal the Secretary of Transportation’s order to the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Transportation Safety Board may, after notice and hearing, amend, modify, or reverse the Secretary of Transportation’s order.”
According to US Circuit Court records, Kragness was convicted on January 6, 1986, of several offenses, including conspiracy to deal in narcotics through a pattern of racketeering, conspiracy to import marijuana, conspiracy to distribute marijuana, and interstate travel to promote exportation and distribution of marijuana, violations of several sections of Titles 18, 21, and 31 of the United States Code.
Mr. Kragness was tried on a thirteen-count indictment. Count I, a RICO conspiracy count, charged that Aleto and the appellants conspired to conduct or participate in the conduct of a drug enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity; 49 overt acts were listed in the count.
Count II, a substantive RICO count, charged the persons named in Count I with conducting or participating in the conduct of a drug enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity.
This count alleged 31 predicate acts of racketeering. Count III charged Vinson, Aleto, and all of the appellants except Prescott with conspiring to import marijuana. Count IV charged the persons named in Count III with a conspiracy to distribute marijuana.
Count V charged Deters, Holbrook, and Aleto with conspiring to import cocaine and quaaludes, while Count VI charged Aleto and all of the appellants with conspiring to distribute cocaine and quaaludes.
Counts VII and VIII charged Deters with traveling in interstate commerce to promote unlawful activity. Count IX charged Deters and Holbrook with causing Lager to possess cocaine with intent to distribute it. Count X charged Kragness with using a telephone to facilitate marijuana exportation and distribution.
Count XI charged Kragness with interstate travel to promote marijuana exportation and distribution. Count XII charged Kragness with causing the transportation of Canadian currency to the United States without reporting it. Finally, Count XIII charged Kragness with conspiring with Lager to obstruct the Internal Revenue Service in the collection of taxes.
The defendants’ trial began September 18, 1985; the jury returned its verdict on October 21, 1985, after over four days of deliberations. Kragness was convicted on Counts I, II, III, IV, XI, XII, and XIII, and acquitted on Counts VI and X. Deters was convicted on Counts I through IX, all the counts charged against him. Caspersen was convicted on Counts I, II, and IV, but was acquitted on Counts III and VI.
Prescott was convicted on Counts I and VI, but was acquitted on Count II. Finally, Vinson was acquitted on Counts III and IV, the only charges against him.
The convicted defendants were sentenced on January 6, 1986 to concurrent sentences on each conviction.
The longest sentence Kragness and Deters received for a conviction was twenty years, the longest for Caspersen and Holbrook was ten years, and the longest Prescott received was seven years.
A 2015 report by the United Nations Panel of Experts in Liberia highlighted looming insecurity to a large number of disaffected young men working for a pittance in dozens of gold-mining camps along both sides of the frontier.
Much of the mining is unlicensed and illegal, and the governments in Monrovia and Abidjan have little idea of how much gold is produced, who buys it, or where it ends up.
For Liberia, the resurfacing of Kragness, presents a rather complicated dilemma for an electoral process already subject to suspect over how it was conducted.
Questions are also abound as to who authorized the shady American businessman access to ballots; who knew what and when?