The Last Circle, By Cheri Seymour (TrineDay LLC, Walterville, Oregon, 2010, 584 pages.)
Book Review by Dennis Moore
October 1, 2010 (San Diego) Former investigative reporter Cheri Seymour, a San Diego County resident, has written a non-fiction thriller to end all thrillers. The Last Circle is ripped from the headlines of one of our era’s most controversial murder scandals: the killing of investigative journalist Danny Casolaro, whose discoveries about a shadowy organization that he dubbed “The Octopus” reached into the Mafia, the Cali Drug Cartel, and even the U.S. Department of Justice.
Casolaro, a Washington D.C. journalist, began his probe with an investigation into the theft of a revolutionary new software program that was actually the forerunner of artificial intelligence. It was called PROMIS, or Prosecutor’s Management Information System, and it was contracted by the U.S. Department of Justice to upgrade the DOJ’s outdated case management system.
Casolaro worked closely with Bill Hamilton, owner and developer of the PROMIS software, to locate and identify the persons responsible for illegally modifying the software, installing a backdoor or Trojan Horse in the program, and selling it worldwide to foreign countries—thus allowing the U.S. government to secretly monitor intelligence operations in those countries.
But Casolaro learned more than he bargained for. The PROMIS software investigation led him into a labyrinth comprised of international spies, drug traffickers, money launderers, and unsolved murders dating as far back as 1981. He called this the “Octopus” because its tentacles reached into every facet of criminal enterprise, including the Mafia and the Cali Drug Cartel.
In August 1991, Casolaro filled his briefcase with documents and headed out to Martinsburg, Virginia to “bring back the head of the Octopus,” according to his closest friends who said he was “ecstatic” about something he had recently uncovered. He never returned. He was found dead at a Martinsburg hotel on August 10, 1991. The coroner ruled his death a suicide, but all his documents and briefcase were missing from the hotel room and never recovered.
Three months after Casolaro’s death, Seymour jumped on the investigative trail he left behind, and 18 years later, his story and Seymour’s are revealed in this riveting book, The Last Circle.
One of the most provocative outcomes of this 18-year on-and-off investigation was the discovery that five days before his death, Casolaro had uncovered a connection between Mike Abbell, a former Director of International Affairs at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and the Cali Drug Cartel in Columbia.
Seymour provided that information to a U.S. Customs Agent in 1993; he followed up on that lead, and in 1995 Mike Abbell was indicted for money laundering, drug conspiracy and racketeering for the Cali Cartel. The indictment was published on the front page of the Washington Post, but the story behind the indictment is published in The Last Circle. That is what Seymour’s book is about, the story behind the story.
Seymour recalled that on February 19th, 2000, the stalwart, soft-spoken Mountie of the RCMP, Sean McDade visited Seymour at her southern California home and explained that high-ranking Canadian officials may have unlawfully purchased the PROMIS software from officials in the Reagan-Bush administration. RCMP, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, had reportedly traced some banking transactions that supported this claim. If his investigation was successful, he said, “it could cause the entire U.S. Republican Party to be dismantled and more than one presidential administration would be exposed for their knowledge of the [PROMIS] software transaction.”
The scope of Seymour’s book includes behind-the-scenes dynamics of a globe-trotting undercover intelligence operative named Robert Booth Nichols. Nichols’ labyrinthine career encompassed the covert operations of a maze of politicians, NSC, CIA, and DOJ officials, organized crime figures, intelligence agents, arms sales, drug-trafficking, high-tech money laundering, and the death of Danny Casolaro.
Seymour states in her book that Nichols was aptly described in magazine articles as “Clark Gable without the ears,” tall with probing brown eyes, his demeanor simultaneously controlled and dramatic with an international flavor. He’d been the weapons technical advisor for Steven Seagal’s movie, “Under Seige,” and it became apparent why Seagal gave him a cameo appearance as a military colonel in the movie.
At times reading like something out of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Supremacy, Seymour’s book is an investigative thriller that points fingers and name names all the way up to its conclusion with the 2009 arrest of a self-described Mafia “hit-man” contracted to kill a Cabazon tribal leader in 1981 who had opposed both development on tribal lands of the first Indian Casino in California and the terrible weapons of Wackenhut.
Though law enforcement investigators from agencies as far-ranging as the FBI, U.S. Customs, police and sheriff’s departments, and even the RCMP national security division, Seymour learned that the official head of the Octopus resided in the U.S. Department of Justice, supported by an out-of-control presidential administration. Its tentacles were comprised of a cabal of “Old Boy” cronies, true believers, who held that the end justified the means in their obsession to quell the expansion of communism in neighboring countries and throughout the world in the 1980s.
They gave corruption a new meaning as they stampeded through the Constitution and acted like cowboys toward the intelligence community, blazing new trails into drug cartels and organized crime while simultaneously growing new tentacles that reached into every facet of criminal enterprise. The theft of high-tech software (PROMIS) for use in money-laundering and espionage, illegal drug and arms trafficking in Latin America, and exploitation of sovereign Indian nations were just a few of these enterprises. Mind you, the high-tech software (PROMIS) was the linchpin to all the sordid acts and criminal behavior revealed in Seymour’s The Last Circle, including the murder of Danny Casolaro.
The Last Circle refers to Dante’s Inferno. Seymour states that there was a last circle represented in Dante’s Inferno, but in retrospect it seems fitting. In 1306 A.D., Dante poeticized nine circles, the ninth being the last level before the final descent into Hell. “The last circle housed those souls who had been traitors to their country, their friends, and their lords.”
Because Seymour had provided a group of law enforcement men and women with the very same information that Casolaro had been working on in the last five days of his life--information that resulted in the subsequent indictment of a former career DOJ official to Robert Boot Nichols and the Cali Cartel-- Seymour was provided with documents and reports of the best kept secret in Washington, D.C.
These law enforcement people had direct knowledge of FBI wiretaps of Robert Booth Nichols and his associates which had captured (on tape) members of the Gambino and Buffalino crime families, in collusion with the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney general, the highest law enforcement authority in the nation, arranging the shutdown and sealing of an FBI investigation of MCA Corporation in order to facilitate the largest corporate sale in U.S. history to the Japanese.
Seymour states in her book that she was told that there is no one in America who has the power to prosecute the Octopus criminals because the tentacles have become an integral, and accepted, culture within our society and indeed, within our economy.
With that in mind, it became clear to Seymour that the only avenue left to expose the history of Octopus was through publishing this book, The Last Circle, because for decades major media, government committees, U.S. Representatives and Senators had ignored the legacy of war, corruption and greed left behind by the Octopus which she says still flourishes today.
This book even includes a reference to the famous “Zapruder” video tape of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, indicating the tentacles of the “Octopus,” and what those tentacles could have people believe. The author quotes Robert Booth Nichols in her book, stating; “Nothing is as it appears to be.”
The intrigue in this book further includes Seymour being targeted for assassination, due to her investigative reporting in affairs of Danny Casolaro and Robert Booth Nichols, among others. She was was warned: “They’re going to kill you, if you don’t RUN!”
She did take a brief hiatus in San Diego with her mother after this threat was made. Obviously, she escaped this fate, for I actually sat next to her and talked with her a few weeks ago at a meeting of the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild. She impressed me as someone who would go to great lengths to get at the truth.
This is an exciting true-life thriller from end to end, with radio interview of the author by the host of "Radio Free Kansas" that you can listen to here.
Dennis Moore is a member of the San Diego Writers/Editors Guild. He has written for LifeAfter50 Magazine in Pasadena, California, and the Baja Times Newspaper in Rosarito Beach, Mexico. Mr. Moore can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter at: @DennisMoore8.