Local News

Judge Orders Passaro Held Without Bond Until Trial

Posted July 21, 2004 7:03 a.m. EDT

— A CIA contractor accused of beating an Afghan prisoner who later died will be held without bond until his trial, a federal magistrate ruled Friday.

U.S. Magistrate Judge William Webb ordered that David Passaro remain behind bars at the Wake County Jail until his trial.

Passaro faces four counts of assault and assault with a dangerous weapon -- a large flashlight -- on prisoner Abdul Wali.

Wali, 28, died at a U.S. base in the Afghan town of Asadabad on June 21, 2003.

During Friday's detention hearing in U.S. District Court, prosecutors questioned Passaro's girlfriend about telephone conversations the two had, in code, about money and his passport.

Bonnie Heart, a Wake Forest police detective, testified about her phone conversations with Passaro, whom she said she met online in September. Prosecutors questioned her to support their argument that Passaro should not be released from jail while he awaits trial.

Prosecutors also played segments of telephone conversations Passaro had with Heart from the Wake County Jail.

In one, Passaro spoke in code to Heart, telling her how to find several hundred dollars hidden under a chair cushion, according to her testimony.

"Maybe you need to just sit down and think about it," Passaro said in code -- a signal to Heart that the money was hidden in a chair.

Defense attorneys asked that Passaro be released into the custody of a neighbor, a Special Operations soldier at Fort Bragg.

In the conversations with Heart, prosecutors said, Passaro told her to get CIA documents and his passport from his safe deposit box at the Fort Bragg Federal Credit Union.

Earlier, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Candelmo said Passaro posed "a serious risk of flight and a danger to the community."

Passaro, he said, has aliases, has given false information to authorities in the past and has hidden assets, Candelmo said.

In addition, the prosecutor said, the government is concerned about Passaro's extensive military training in covert operations.

When questioned by defense attorneys, Heart said Passaro never discussed using an alias or a disguise or fleeing. She said she did not think he would do that because he is devoted to his son, whose mother was Passaro's second wife.

Some of Heart's testimony on the stand conflicted with what was said on the tapes. The judge called the discrepencies troublesome.

Candelmo said three members of the 82nd Airborne Division would testify that Passaro beat Wali with a heavy metal flashlight 10 to 30 times and kicked him so hard he came off the ground.

The 82nd Airborne soldiers will testify that when Passaro left the room to take a break during one interrogation session, Wali begged one of the paratroopers guarding him "to please shoot me before the defendant returned," Candelmo said.

At the time of Wali's death, Passaro was working as a CIA contractor in Afghanistan and was on leave from a civilian job with the Fort Bragg-headquartered Special Operations Command.

Passaro wore an orange jail jumpsuit to the hearing. A dozen or so relatives and friends sat behind him in the courtroom, and security was tight.

About a half-dozen U.S. marshals sat behind Passaro in the courtroom, and even court employees had their identification badges double-checked as they entered the courtroom.

Defense lawyers have cited a June 27, 2003, comment made to an Iranian radio station by Fazel Akbar, the governor of Kunar province, where the base is located, as evidence that Wali died of a heart attack.

But a spokesman for Akbar said recently that Akbar only suspected heart problems because U.S. officials insisted the man was not mistreated and after a cursory examination by Afghan officials of the corpse.

Candelmo said in court that Passaro has a history of violence, including an assault in Hartford, Conn., in the early 1990s. That incident led to Passaro's arrest by state police and his being let go by the Hartford Police Department before he completed his probationary period with the force.

If convicted, Passaro faces up to 40 years in prison and a $1 million fine.