Frank Anthony Sturgis (December 9, 1924 – December 4, 1993), born Frank Angelo Fiorini, was one of the Watergate burglars.

Early life and military service[edit | edit source]

When still a child, his family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On October 5, 1942, in his senior year of high school, seventeen year old Frank Angelo Fiorini joined the United States Marine Corps and served under Col. "Red Mike" Merritt A. Edson in the First Marine Raider Battalion in the Pacific during the Second World War.[1] Honorably discharged as a corporal in 1945, he joined the Norfolk police force on June 5, 1946. He soon discovered a corrupt payoff system and brought it to the attention of his superiors who told him to overlook the illegal activities. On October 5, 1946 he had a confrontation with his sergeant and resigned the same day. For the next eighteen months he managed the Havana-Madrid tavern in Norfolk that catered to foreigners, mostly Cuban merchant seamen.

On November 9, 1947, Fiorini joined the United States Naval Reserve at the Norfolk Naval Air Station and learned to fly while still working at the tavern. He was honorably discharged on August 30, 1948 and joined the United States Army the next day. He was sent immediately to West Berlin where Russia had closed the land routes during the Berlin Blockade and he became a member of General Lucius Clay's honor guard. Two weeks after Russia reopened the land routes on May 11, 1949, Frank was honorably discharged. As a Marine Raider, Fiorini had worked behind enemy lines gathering intelligence, and during his Army tenure in Berlin and Heidelberg, he had a top secret clearance and worked in an intelligence unit whose primary target was the Soviet Union. Fiorini started to believe Russia was a threat, and he became a lifelong militant. Returning to Norfolk in 1952, he took a job managing the Cafe Society tavern, then partnered with its owner, Milton Bass, to co-purchase and manage The Top Hat Nightclub in Virginia Beach.[2]

Sturgis attended the Virginia Polytechnic Institute before becoming the manager of the Whitehorse Tavern. While in Norfolk, Virginia Sturgis attended a few classes at Old Dominion University.[citation needed]

Intelligence activities 1952-1962[edit | edit source]

On September 23, 1952, Frank Fiorini filed a petition in the Circuit Court of the City of Norfolk, Virginia, to change his name to Frank Anthony Sturgis, adopting the surname of his stepfather Ralph Sturgis, whom his mother had married in 1937. Whether coincidence or not, his new name resembled that of Hank Sturgis, the fictional hero of E. Howard Hunt's 1949 novel, Bimini Run, whose life parallels Frank Sturgis' life from 1942 to 1949 in certain salient respects.[3]

Sturgis moved to Miami in 1957 where the Cuban wife of his uncle Angelo Vona introduced him to former Cuban president Carlos Prio, who with other anti-Batista Cubans were plotting their return to power. They were sending money to Mexico to support Fidel Castro. Prio asked Sturgis to go to Cuba to join up with Castro and to report back to the exiled powers in Miami.[4]

Sturgis met up with Castro and his 400 rebels in the Sierra Maestra mountains. Sturgis offered to train Castro’s troops in guerrilla warfare. Castro accepted the offer, but he also had an immediate need for guns and ammunition, so Sturgis became a gunrunner. Using money from anti-Batista Cuban exiles in Miami, Sturgis purchased boatloads of weapons and ammo from CIA weapons expert Samuel Cummings's International Armament Corporation in Alexandria, Virginia. Sturgis explained later that he chose to throw in with Castro rather than Prio because Fidel was a soldier, a man of action, whereas Prio was a politician, more a man of words.[5] In March 1958, Sturgis opened a training camp in the Sierra Maestra mountains, where he taught Che Guevara and other 26th of July Movement rebel soldiers guerrilla warfare.[6] When the revolution ended in January 1959, Castro appointed Sturgis gambling czar and director of security and intelligence for the air force in addition to his position as a captain in the 26th of July Brigade.[7]

He also spent time in Mexico, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama, and Honduras. It is believed that during this time Sturgis worked as a soldier of fortune or a contract agent for the Central Intelligence Agency. The 1975 Rockefeller Commission report, however, found that "Frank Sturgis was not an employee or agent of the CIA either in 1963 or at any other time."[8]

File:Frank Sturgis (various).jpg

Frank Sturgis (various photos)

Sturgis also became involved in gunrunning to Cuba. On July 30, 1958, Sturgis was arrested for illegal possession of arms but was released without charge. There is some evidence that in 1959, Sturgis had contact with Lewis McWillie, the manager of the Tropicana Casino.

After Fidel Castro gained control of Cuba, Sturgis formed the International Anti-Communist Brigade. In his book Counter-Revolutionary Agent, Hans Tanner claims that the organization was "being financed by dispossessed hotel and gambling owners" who previously had operated freely under Fulgencio Batista.

In 1959, Sturgis became involved with Marita Lorenz, who was then having an affair with Fidel Castro. In January 1960, Sturgis and Lorenz took part in a failed attempt to poison Castro. It is also believed that Sturgis was involved in helping the CIA organize the Bay of Pigs invasion.[9][10]

Sturgis was also a member of Operation 40, a CIA sponsored organization. He later explained: "this assassination group (Operation 40) would upon orders, naturally, assassinate either members of the military or the political parties of the foreign country that you were going to infiltrate and if necessary some of your own members who were suspected of being foreign agents. We were concentrating strictly in Cuba at that particular time. Actually, they were operating out of Mexico, too."

Alleged JFK assassination connections[edit | edit source]

In an article published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel on December 4, 1963, James Buchanan, former reporter for the Pompano Beach Sun-Sentinel, claimed that Sturgis had met Lee Harvey Oswald in Miami, Florida shortly before the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Buchanan claimed that Oswald had tried to infiltrate the International Anti-Communist Brigade. When he was questioned by the FBI about this story, Sturgis claimed that Buchanan had misquoted him regarding his comments about Oswald.

According to a memo sent by L. Patrick Gray, acting FBI Director, to H. R. Haldeman in 1972: "Sources in Miami say he (Sturgis) is now associated with organized crime activities". In his book, Assassination of JFK (1977), Bernard Fensterwald claims that Sturgis was heavily involved with the Mafia, particularly with Santo Trafficante's and Meyer Lansky's activities in Florida.

The Rockefeller Commission of the U.S. Congress in 1974 investigated Sturgis and E. Howard Hunt in connection with the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Specifically, it investigated allegations that E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis were CIA agents and were present in Dallas at the time of the assassination and could have fired the alleged shots from the grassy knoll.[11] Some support for Hunt's involvement came from Kerry Wendell Thornley, who believed he had conversed with Hunt (who Thornley claimed used the alias "Gary Kirstein") on numerous occasions from 1961 to 1963 regarding plans to assassinate John F. Kennedy. Newsweek magazine reported and printed photographs of three men, including two supposedly resembling Hunt and Sturgis, who were detained at the grassy knoll shortly after the assassination. The Newsweek article stated the official reports that the men were released and were only "railroad bums" who would find shelter sleeping in the boxcars of the trains located near the grassy knoll. According to Newsweek, the men were released without further inquiry.

According to the 1975 Rockefeller Commission report, Hunt testified that he had never met Sturgis before they were introduced by Bernard Barker in Miami in 1972. Sturgis testified to the same effect, except that he did not recall whether the introduction had taken place in late 1971 or early 1972. Sturgis further testified that while he had often heard of "Eduardo," a CIA political officer who had been active in the work of the Cuban Revolutionary Council in Miami prior to the Bay of Pigs operation in April 1961, he had never met him and did not know until 1971 or 1972 that "Eduardo" was E. Howard Hunt.[12]

In a deathbed statement released in 2007, Hunt named Sturgis as one of the participants in "The Big Event", which Hunt's son claims to be the code name for the assassination.[13][14][15]

Watergate burglary 1972[edit | edit source]

File:Frank Sturgis and Bernard Barker, 1960 and 1972.jpg

Frank Sturgis and Bernard Barker, 1960 (top) and 1972

Main article: Watergate scandal

On June 17, 1972, Sturgis, Virgilio González, Eugenio Martínez, Bernard Barker and James W. McCord, Jr. were arrested while installing electronic listening devices in the national Democratic Party campaign offices located at the Watergate office complex in Washington. The phone number of Hunt was found in address books of the burglars. Reporters were able to link the break-in to the White House. Bob Woodward, a reporter working for the Washington Post was told by a source (Deep Throat) who was employed by the government that senior aides of President Richard Nixon had paid the burglars to obtain information about his political opponents.

Prison and later investigations[edit | edit source]

In January 1973, Sturgis, Hunt, Gonzalez, Martinez, Barker, G. Gordon Liddy and James W. McCord were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping. While in prison, Sturgis gave an interview to Andrew St. George. Sturgis told St. George: "I will never leave this jail alive if what we discussed about Watergate does not remain a secret between us. If you attempt to publish what I've told you, I am a dead man."

St. George's article was published in True magazine in August 1974. Sturgis claims that the Watergate burglars had been instructed to find a particular document in the Democratic Party offices. This was a "secret memorandum from the Castro government" that included details of CIA covert actions. Sturgis said "that the Castro government suspected the CIA did not tell the whole truth about this operations even to American political leaders".

In an interview with New York Daily News reporter Paul Meskil on June 20, 1975, Sturgis stated, “I was a spy. I was involved in assassination plots and conspiracies to overthrow several foreign governments including Cuba, Panama, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti. I smuggled arms and men into Cuba for Castro and against Castro. I broke into intelligence files. I stole and photographed secret documents. That’s what spies do.”

In 1976, Sturgis gave a series of interviews where he claimed that the assassination of John F. Kennedy had been organized by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. According to Sturgis, Lee Harvey Oswald had been working in America as a Cuban agent.

In November 1977, Marita Lorenz gave an interview to the New York Daily News in which she claimed that a group called Operation 40, that included Sturgis and Lee Harvey Oswald, were involved in a conspiracy to kill both John F. Kennedy and Fidel Castro.

In August 1978, Victor Marchetti published an article about the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the Liberty Lobby newspaper, The Spotlight. In the article, Marchetti argued that the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) had obtained a 1966 CIA memo that revealed Sturgis, Hunt and Gerry Patrick Hemming had been involved in the plot to kill Kennedy. Marchetti's article also included a story that Marita Lorenz had provided information on this plot. Later that month, Joseph Trento and Jacquie Powers wrote a similar story for the Sunday News Journal.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations did not publish this alleged CIA memo linking its agents to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Hunt now decided to take legal action against the Liberty Lobby and, in December 1981, he was awarded $650,000 in damages. Liberty Lobby appealed to the United States Court of Appeals. It was claimed that Hunt's attorney, Ellis Rubin, had offered a clearly erroneous instruction as to the law of defamation. The three-judge panel agreed and the case was retried. This time Mark Lane defended the Liberty Lobby against Hunt's action.

Lane eventually discovered Marchetti's sources. The main source was William Corson. It also emerged that Marchetti had also consulted James Angleton and Alan J. Weberman before publishing the article. As a result of obtaining depositions from David Atlee Phillips, Richard Helms, G. Gordon Liddy, Stansfield Turner and Marita Lorenz, plus a skillful cross-examination by Lane of E. Howard Hunt, the jury decided in January 1995 that Marchetti had not been guilty of libel when he suggested that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated by people working for the CIA.

Lorenz also testified before the House Select Committee on Assassinations where she claimed that Sturgis had been one of the gunmen who fired on John F. Kennedy in Dallas. Sturgis testified that he had been engaged in various "adventures" relating to Cuba, which he believed to have been organized and financed by the CIA.

Sturgis denied that he had been involved in the assassination of Kennedy. Sturgis testified that he was in Miami throughout the day of the assassination, and his testimony was supported by that of his wife and a nephew of his wife. The House committee dismissed Lorenz's testimony, as they were unable to find any other evidence to support it. In 1986, he was interviewed on the television show Inside Edition claiming that the KGB was responsible for the assassination.

Later life[edit | edit source]

In 1979 Sturgis traveled to Angola to help rebels fighting the communist government, which was supported by Cuba and the Soviet Union, and to teach guerrilla warfare. In 1981 he went to Honduras to train Contras who were fighting Nicaragua's Sandinista government, which was supported by Cuba and the Soviet Union; the Army of El Salvador; and the Honduras death squads. He made a second trip to Angola and trained rebels in the Angolan bush for Holden Roberto. He interacted with Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal. In 1989 he visited Yassir Arafat in Tunis. Arafat shared elements of his peace plan and Sturgis was debriefed by the CIA on his return.[16]

In an obituary published December 5, 1993, the New York Times quoted Sturgis' lawyer, Ellis Rubin, as saying that Sturgis died of cancer a week after he was admitted to a veterans hospital in Miami, five days shy of his 69th birthday. It was reported that doctors diagnosed lung cancer that had spread to his kidneys, and that he was survived by a wife, Jan, and a daughter.[17] The Marine Corps performed a twenty-one gun salute and "Taps" at his funeral. As a war veteran, the Veterans Administration was supposed to provide a headstone, but never did. Sturgis was buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery south of Miami.[18]

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. Jim Hunt and Bob Risch, Warrior (New York: A Forge Book, May 2011), p. 25-26.
  2. Jim Hunt and Bob Risch, Warrior (New York: A Forge Book, May 2011), p. 30-44.
  3. Will Ruha, proposal identifying fictional Hank Sturgis with Fiorini. For a contrary view, from Chapter 19 of the Rockefeller Commission report (denying suggestion that Sturgis took his present name from the Hunt character, or that the name change was associated in any way with Sturgis' knowing Hunt before 1971 or 1972), see "Were Watergate Conspirators Also JFK Assassins?".
  4. Jim Hunt and Bob Risch, Warrior (New York: A Forge Book, May 2011), p. 38.
  5. Jim Hunt and Bob Risch, Warrior (New York: A Forge Book, May 2011), p. 39.
  6. Jim Hunt and Bob Risch, Warrior (New York: A Forge Book, May 2011), p. 43.
  7. Jim Hunt and Bob Risch, Warrior (New York: A Forge Book, May 2011), p. 57.
  8. Report to the President by the Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States Chapter 19
  9. Schlesinger 1978, p. 482
  10. Escalante 1995, pp. 47, 74
  11. Gerald R. Ford Library, Summary Description of Rockefeller Commission Files
  12. Report to the President by the Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States Chapter 19
  13. Erik Hedegaard, "The Last Confession of E. Howard Hunt", Rolling Stone, April 5, 2007.
  14. "Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura -- JFK Assassination", truTV, November 19, 2010.
  15. Hunt, E. Howard. "The Last Confessions of E. Howard Hunt". Retrieved 11 April 2011. 
  16. Jim Hunt and Bob Risch, Warrior (New York: A Forge Book, May 2011), p. 313-314.
  17. "Frank A. Sturgis, Is Dead at 68; A Burglar in the Watergate Affair", New York Times (December 5, 1993 obituary)
  18. Jim Hunt and Bob Risch, Warrior (New York: A Forge Book, May 2011), p. 277.

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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