By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
After September 11, Menepta publicly defended Moussaoui, calling him a ”scapegoat.“ The FBI arrested him as a material witness and subsequently charged Menepta with a federal gun violation. He pleaded guilty and in April 2002 was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. He was never charged with any terrorism-related crime. But during the preliminary hearing on the gun charge, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agent Jeffrey Whitney testified that a confidential source placed Menepta at a meeting of a radical Islamic group in St. Louis where he allegedly threatened to shoot any police officer who entered the mosque. Menepta‘s attorney challenged the credibility of this report in court.
A former desk clerk at the motel -- a different clerk from the one who purportedly dealt with Atta and Moussaoui -- told the Weekly that he remembered Menepta because in 1994 and 1995 -- prior to the Oklahoma City attack -- Menepta frequently visited the motel office. There, he bought coffee and talked for hours to this clerk.
The clerk and his wife, who both formerly worked at the motel, said they picked Menepta’s picture out of a photo lineup prepared by a law-enforcement officer who had interviewed the motel owner.
This officer, who also spoke to the Weekly on condition of anonymity, said that after the motel owner told him about the Moussaoui sighting, he contacted a member of Oklahoma‘s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes the FBI.
The FBI finally acted on the tip. The motel owner said that on December 19, 2001, he went to FBI offices in Oklahoma City for a formal interview, where he was debriefed by an FBI agent and by Oklahoma City Police Sergeant Jerry Flowers. ”We talked for several hours, and I told them everything I knew.“ The motel owner said he would have taken a polygraph exam but was not asked to do so. The Weekly’s law-enforcement source corroborates the December 19 interview.
The motel owner never heard from prosecutors in Moussaoui‘s case but got one more call from the FBI several weeks later. ”The agent told me they had passed on a copy of my statement to Moussaoui’s defense team, and I might be getting a call from them. But I was under no obligation to talk to them. However, I don‘t know if that was the truth. Since then, I have never heard from anyone connected to Moussaoui’s case.“
One reason for the FBI‘s apparent lack of interest might be this motel’s alleged connection to Timothy McVeigh and a group of Iraqis who worked in Oklahoma City. According to the motel owner and other witnesses and investigators interviewed by the Weekly, McVeigh and several of these Iraqis were motel guests in the months preceding the 1995 bombing. Witnesses also claimed they saw several of the Iraqis moving barrels of material around on the bed of a truck. The motel owner said the material smelled of diesel fuel and he had to clean up a spill. Diesel fuel was a key component of the truck bomb that blew up the Federal Building.
The motel owner said he and his staff reported this information to the FBI in 1995. ”We did have an ATF agent come out and collect the originals of the room registrations for that period, but we never heard back from them. And I never could get the registrations returned.“ He added that his previous experience with the FBI made him reluctant to contact them about Moussaoui. ”But I decided it was my duty to tell them what had happened. So I did.“
Former Oklahoma City TV reporter Jayna Davis also interviewed motel staff and former guests. In the process, she collected signed affidavits about their contacts with McVeigh and the Iraqis. She tried twice to give the Bureau this information, but the FBI refused to accept her materials. (The Weekly first reported on her investigation in an article published in September 2001.)
The Weekly‘s law-enforcement source said he has reviewed Davis’ material and considers it credible. ”Last December I personally took the documents to the Joint Terrorism Task Force,“ he said. ”I told them they should do their own investigation.“ The response was not encouraging. He said he was later informed that the Bureau brought in an analyst, ”but I was told it would probably go nowhere. They were afraid the whole Oklahoma City bombing can of worms would be opened up and the FBI would have to explain why they didn‘t investigate this material before.“
The Weekly contacted numerous local and federal investigators and agencies, including the Oklahoma task force, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI and the Justice Department. All declined to comment. Prosecutors on the Moussaoui case also declined official comment, but their reactions suggested they knew nothing of the motel encounter.
After being told about the motel owner‘s interview and allegations, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Spencer responded with a one-word question about the sighting: ”When?“ Spencer then declined further comment. Another Moussaoui prosecutor, David Novak, also declined comment. But Novak wanted to know the name of the motel owner.