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Customs agent leads ‘double life’

Page 1/2 from original article: Customs Agent Leads ‘Double Life’ Cherokeean Herald

Page 2/2 from original article: Customs Agent Leads ‘Double Life’ Cherokeean Herald

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The following comes directly from the front page of the “PEOPLE” Section of the Cherokeean/Herald (Rusk, Tex.), Vol. 150, No. 10, Ed. 1 Thursday, April 29, 1999 Page: 9 and 10 of 16. I’ve included attachments of the original article, by Mrs. Wanda Rawls, and Terrie Gonzales. The only changes to the original article were a few very minor grammer and sentence structure alterations. It’s been a real joy and privalidge to bring back this story, essentially an article more or less buried and forgotten by time, as most things are. Sometimes it just takes a little digging and dusting off to let pieces such as these shine once again; at least for a small group of subscribers & followers to this blog.

If each reader, after reading this, could “share” using the buttons below the article, it could breathe some life back into this well written piece by Wanda Rawls and Terrie Gonzales of the Cherokeean Herald, of Cherokee County, based out of Rusk, Texas.

Enjoy!

– ASBT Chief Editor, youngest son of Larry William McLendon,
Jonathan L. McLendon



CUSTOMS AGENT LEADS ‘DOUBLE LIFE’

Larry McLendon commutes to Houston as a narcotics investigator.

– By Wanda Rawls

The scene on an Austin street in 1981 could have been lifted from a Hollywood movie, the drug dealer sitting the back seat of the sedan, picked up a gun and yelled, “Larry, I’m going to kill you!”

The scene was not a movie but a chapter from the real life of Larry McLendon.

“Suddenly I felt the cold metal of a Browning automatic against my head. The hammer was back, and the safety was off. I knew that the slightest pressure from his finger would mean the end for me… (And) I wasn’t ready to die.”

In the next split second, the driver of the car, a DPS narcotics officer, let go of the steering wheel and turned in his seat he grabbed the weapon. Larrreeacted equally as fast, and he lodged his thumb behind the hammer of the gun and wrestled it free.

That day stands out in Larry McLendon’s mind, as he reflects on a law enforcement career spanning 29 years with service to the DEA, U.S. Customs, and DPS.

“At that point in my life, I didn’t think I needed anyone. I was young and considered myself to be bulletproof and invincible.”

These days, he compartmentalizes his life between work and family, and he’s placed a 160-mile space between the two. Each Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, he drives round-trip to Houston, where he works as a narcotics investigator for the United States Customs Service. Drug smuggling, money laundering, weapons technology and pornography are all in a day’s work for Larry in his Houston office.

However, as the sun goes down, he hurried home to Rusk from the Houston rat race so he can spend several evenings a week at the softball diamonds. Larry volunteers as an assistant coach for two teams and an eight-year-old and 10-year-old who call him, “dad.”

Throughout his law enforcement career, Larry has found himself involved in dangerous situations involving high-profile cases. Perhaps one of his most famous cases involved John DeLorean, who designed and manufactured the stainless steel, the space-aged car featured in the Hollywood movie, Back to the Future. Mr. DeLorean found himself in financial straits when he allegedly hit upon the idea to save his company by smuggling large amounts of cocaine into the US.

“During the arrest of the former General Motors executive, I helped set up the recording of the video equipment and the audio equipment in the hotel room proceeding DeLorean’s arrival,” said Larry.

“After Delorean had flown into LA that morning, we picked him up and brought him to the room,” he recalled.

A suitcase containing 55lbs of coke, with a street value of almost $1.5 million, sat in a closet as Mr. DeLorean offered a champagne toast to his new “business partners.”

“It’s better than gold,” DeLorean declared, referring to the profit he thought he was going to make for his struggling car manufacturing company. His drug “buyers” turned out to be undercover agents, and they videotaped the whole procedure. Larry saw the drama unfold through the eye of a camera lens.

“We thought we had enough evidence to convict him was a very intricate case, but it eventually resulted in an acquittal,” Larry said.

Mr. Delorean claimed “entrapment” as a defense, and the courts threw the case out.”

In another high-profile case before the DeLorean bust, Customs agents picked up more than a ton of cocaine, representing one of the agency’s most significant cases.

“The shipment of cocaine came in from South America. The dope was inside supposedly being returned. They had a unique way of inserting cocaine inside a round cylinder. If someone probed it, chances were good that they would get chlorine gas.”

Good intelligence and hard work paid off resulting in a near-record haul of cocaine which never hit the streets.

In yet another undercover job involving a speed lab, Larry again found himself in a gun battle which, again, nearly cost him his life.

“We received a search warrant on a methamphetamine “speed” lab,” Larry said. “I was shot at from close range with a .357 Magnum. It was an unusually dark and dreary night. I saw fire jump a couple of feet out of the barrel of that .357 Magnum, coming straight toward me.

I was actually surprised when I didn’t feel anything, realizing I had not **(been shot). After the fireworks were finally over, the felon had been wounded.” The emotions which follow a shootout with the bad guys are overpowering. “During those times, you’re scared,” Larry said. “There’s no question; you’re scared. (Additionally,) you don’t have time to think about it. (However,) after it’s over, that’s when the real scare sets in.” Most of Larry’s hair-raising tales occurred between his mid 20’s and the age of 35. “This time in my life was an age when men seemed to take more chances. ] I’ve been in numerous situations where there was gunfire exchange, people wounded and sometimes killed.”

Despite the “tough guy” image Larry projects as an undercover agent, he admits to being a “white knuckled” flyer. Just recently he flew to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, GA., to instruct a seminar. Most federal officers receive some training at this location. The FBI and DEA have their respective school, but most other federal protective services are trained there. With the passage of time, Larry has begun to reflect and re-live some of those dangerous moments. Along the way, he discovered he had a “silent partner” he never knew.

“I realized that God was watching over me during those times, which happened when I was lost, had never trusted Christ as my Savior. I now realize that God had his hand on me. Otherwise, I would not be alive today,” he said.

He admits that his job took an emotional toll on him along the way.

“I became negative over the years after working the highway and seeing all the accidents with people getting hurt and killed. Other people died because they were used by higher-up criminals who make their money from drugs. As a result, (the job) became a negative thing from 1970 to 1983.”

Sometime in 1983, Larry said he hit “the lowest point in my life” with stress and pent-up emotions. The problem was that I didn’t know God had a plan for my life. I was seeking something, but was unable to find it – I didn’t even know what I was searching for. I had gone into this (career) with altruistic reasons, but they were not enough to sustain me through all that I would be exposed. I didn’t know there was a god in heaven who loved me and wanted to me to give him my life. So as good as my motives were, it was not enough,” he said.

“In 1983, I finally realized that I needed something outside of myself; something was missing.

When Jakie (his wife) and I became saved, two days apart, it made a great difference in our lives,” he said. “If I were now doing the job that I was doing earlier, I would do it differently. I now approach things from the standpoint that I can trust God to show me what to do and to be a good testimony to others. So many people that I have come in contact with, in law enforcement, are unaware that God is our Savior. So many of them need what I have now. So I try to be an influence in those people’s lives. I have seen specific instances where I work, where God has opened doors for me to tell people what my life used to be like and what it is now. I give Him the glory, feeling that’s my job.”

“If a young man or woman were interested in this line of work, they should make sure of their (reasons) motivations. If it’s the allure of the excitement, the things you see on TV or the movies, then that’s probably not the best reasons. My job is like most other fields. There is a place for all different types. They should approach it with the question, “is this God’s purpose for my life?” No matter what we attempt to do, if it’s not His will, then we’re going to be miserable until we get to the place where we’re in His will. It’s so primary in everything in one’s life. It affects your family, the place where you live, your standard of living – everything. I would have to caution a young person going into this type of work,” he said. There were many weeks when he could not go home because he was so deep undercover.

“I was out on surveillance for weeks at a time, in Central Texas on the hills and airstrips waiting for a plane to land – a plane that sometimes never came. I’ve found myself with a couple of guns, in freezing rain along the coast, and in the brush with a parka over me. Times that you couldn’t tell your family where you were, what you were doing, where you were, what you were doing, where you were going, and couldn’t call them when you got there,” he said.

His wife, Jackie, understands the demand of being married to an undercover agent.

“The inevitable call to duty is something we have learned to deal with. I have always admired Larry for the job that he does. It’s been hard at times; I longed to share the problems he has endured in ways other than just being there for him. Our children, Jonathan and Hannah, and I are very proud of larry for the work that he does.”

They’re the reason he places 160 miles between his two lives. Moreover, he feels at peace with himself for this decision.

 

-Terrie Gonzales contributed