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SLC lawyer: FBI likely knew of Oklahoma bombing plot

Published November 25, 2004 1:03 am

Seeking disclosure: In a court filing, he wants the agency to provide an unedited 1995 memo and a related report about his brother's death in prison
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The FBI "in all likelihood" had advance notice of the Oklahoma City bombing plot but did nothing to prevent the attack, a Salt Lake City lawyer claims.

Attorney Jesse Trentadue alleges an informant infiltrated a white supremacist compound in Oklahoma and learned Timothy McVeigh was trying to recruit accomplices there about two weeks before the April 19, 1995, bombing.

This information probably was relayed to the FBI before the bombing, the lawyer contends in a document filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.

Trentadue has sued the FBI, alleging it is violating the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by refusing to turn over documents connected to the 1995 death of his brother in an Oklahoma prison.

As evidence that the agency has failed to do a proper search for the records he wants, he points to a FBI memorandum sent to members of a task force investigating the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people.

Although he specifically requested that memo, the FBI claimed it either did not exist or could not be located, Trentadue says in court documents. Yet Trentadue - who does not say how he obtained a copy - filed in court a print copy of a heavily edited electronic memo dated Jan. 4, 1996.

The memo also has been mentioned in prior media reports in Oklahoma.

It is unclear who wrote the memo, which appears to have been sent to FBI offices in several cities. It states someone affiliated with the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights group, was at a white supremacist compound in April 1995, when one of the Oklahoma bombing suspects allegedly called looking for a co-conspirator.

The name of the caller is blacked out, but the person is described as one of the two indicted defendants in the bombing. The two defendants were McVeigh, who was executed in 2001 for the crime, and Terry Nichols, who is serving a life sentence.

An employee at the Department of Justice, which represents the FBI in the lawsuit, said Wednesday that no one was available for comment on the memo. The department in the past has declined to talk about pending legal actions.

A call to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., was not returned Wednesday.

Trentadue is pursuing the document because he believes the investigation of the bombing holds clues to his brother's death.

Kenneth Trentadue, 44, was being held on an alleged parole violation in a federal prison in Oklahoma City when guards found him dead on Aug. 21, 1995, hanging from a noose made of torn bed sheets. His family insists he was killed and contend correctional officials destroyed evidence; authorities have denied the allegations and contend he committed suicide. Several investigations also ruled the death a suicide.

Trentadue believes the FBI mistakenly suspected his brother was part of a gang that robbed banks to fund attacks on the government, and that authorities killed him “when things got out of hand” during an interrogation.

Trentadue believes that at one time, the FBI was investigating whether the bank robbers were connected to the bombing.

FBI agents have said there was no connection between the six bank robbery gang suspects who were arrested and McVeigh and Nichols. One agent, testifying in a state murder trial against Nichols last spring, said the only link was that the robbers had connections to an Elohim City, Okla., supremacist compound, and there was evidence McVeigh called there once.

As part of his own probe into Kenneth's death, Trentadue had asked the FBI for records related to the robbers. According to his suit, an anonymous caller told him a few months after his brother died that his brother, a convicted bank robber, had been murdered because he fit a profile of the gang members.

The FBI responded it has followed FOIA procedures and has asked U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball in Salt Lake City to dismiss the suit.

In turn, Trentadue on Tuesday asked the judge to order the agency to produce two specific documents: An unedited copy of the 1995 FBI memo and a report he believes was prepared after an FBI agent and two assistant U.S. attorneys investigating his brother's death interviewed him a year later.

pmanson@sltrib.com