Frank Anthony Sturgis (December 9, 1924 – December 4, 1993), born Frank Angelo Fiorini, was one of the five Watergate burglars whose capture led to the end of the Presidency of Richard Nixon. He served in several branches of the United States military and in the Cuban Revolution of 1958, and worked as an undercover operative.
When still a child, his family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On October 5, 1942, in his senior year of high school, 17-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 Theater during the Second World War. Honorably discharged as a corporal in 1945, he enrolled at Virginia Polytechnic Institute but left college and 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 18 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 the USSR had closed the land routes during the Berlin Blockade, and he became a member of General Lucius Clay's honor guard. Two weeks after the USSR reopened the land routes on May 11, 1949, Fiorini 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.
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. 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.
Sturgis moved to Miami in 1957, where the Cuban wife of his uncle Angelo Vona introduced him to former Cuban president Carlos Prio, who joined with other Cubans opposing dictator Fulgencio Batista to plot 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.
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 ammunition from CIA weapons expert Samuel Cummings' 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. 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. When Castro seized power, Fiorini was part of a rebel firing squad on San Juan Hill on January 11, 1959, that executed 71 of their opponents into an awaiting 40-foot ditch that had been opened with a bulldozer. Afterward, Fiorini was photographed holding a rifle on top of the covered mass grave.
Castro then 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 Movement. Sturgis went to Miami on June 2, 1959, with Alan McDonald while "supervising the investigation of several American gamblers with criminal records that operate casinos in Havana." They requested from Metropolitan Criminal Intelligence Supervisor Frank Kappel information on "Meyer and Jake Lansky, Joe Silesi aka Joe Rivers and Santos Trafficante," that was provided to them six days later after the Cuban government sent an official written request.
Sturgis defected the following month with Revolutionary Air Force chief Commandant Pedro Luis Diaz Lanz and they joined the anti-Castro exile opposition.
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. The burglars had made an earlier successful entry to the same location several weeks earlier, but returned to fix a malfunctioning device and to photograph more documents. 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.
In January 1973, Sturgis, Hunt, Gonzalez, Martinez, Barker, G. Gordon Liddy and James W. McCord were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and wiretapping.
Sturgis was convicted in 1973 with Max Gonzalez and Jerry Buchanan in a federal court in Miami (73-597-CR-CA) of transporting cars stolen in Texas into Mexico. This prompted Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Acting Regional Director David W. Costa to send a letter to Judge C. Clyde Atkins on March 10, 1975, indicating that Sturgis had been covertly cooperating with the DEA. Sturgis served 14 months in the minimum security federal prison in Eglin, Florida.
After leaving prison, Sturgis served as a Miami police informant and continued snitching on the anti-Castro activities of Dr. Orlando Bosch.
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 response to Sturgis' repeated braggadocio to the news media, the CIA issued a public statement on May 30, 1975, indicating that he had never been connected with them "in any way."
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.”
Sturgis has been the subject of various allegations regarding the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He also made claims that other individuals were involved in the assassination of Kennedy.
The Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram photographed three transients under police escort near the Texas School Book Depository shortly after the assassination of Kennedy. The men later became known as the "three tramps". According to Vincent Bugliosi, allegations that these men were involved in a conspiracy originated from theorist Richard E. Sprague who compiled the photographs in 1966 and 1967, and subsequently turned them over to Jim Garrison during his investigation of Clay Shaw. Appearing before a nationwide audience on the December 31, 1968 episode of The Tonight Show, Garrison held up a photo of the three and suggested they were involved in the assassination. Later, in 1974, assassination researchers Alan J. Weberman and Michael Canfield compared photographs of the men to people they believed to be suspects involved in a conspiracy and said that two of the men were Watergate burglars Hunt and Sturgis. Comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory helped bring national media attention to the allegations against Hunt and Sturgis in 1975 after obtaining the comparison photographs from Weberman and Canfield. Immediately after obtaining the photographs, Gregory held a press conference that received considerable coverage and his charges were reported in Rolling Stone and Newsweek.
The Rockefeller Commission reported in 1975 that they investigated the allegation that Hunt and Sturgis, on behalf of the CIA, participated in the assassination of Kennedy. The final report of that commission stated that witnesses who testified that the "derelicts" bore a resemblance to Hunt or Sturgis "were not shown to have any qualification in photo identification beyond that possessed by an average layman". Their report also stated that FBI Agent Lyndal L. Shaneyfelt, "a nationally-recognized expert in photoidentification and photoanalysis" with the FBI photographic laboratory, had concluded from photo comparison that none of the men were Hunt or Sturgis. In 1979, the House Select Committee on Assassinations reported that forensic anthropologists had again analyzed and compared the photographs of the "tramps" with those of Hunt and Sturgis, as well as with photographs of Thomas Vallee, Daniel Carswell, and Fred Lee Chrisman. According to the Committee, only Chrisman resembled any of the tramps but determined that he was not to be in Dealey Plaza on the day of the assassination. In 1992, journalist Mary La Fontaine discovered the November 22, 1963 arrest records that the Dallas Police Department had released in 1989, which named the three men as Gus W. Abrams, Harold Doyle, and John F. Gedney. According to the arrest reports, the three men were "taken off a boxcar in the railroad yards right after President Kennedy was shot", detained as "investigative prisoners", described as unemployed and passing through Dallas, then released four days later.
In 1976, Sturgis claimed that he was assigned to investigate any possible role that Cuban exiles may have played in the assassination of Kennedy. He stated that his investigation revealed that ten weeks prior to the assassination, Jack Ruby met with Fidel Castro in Havana, Cuba to discuss "the removal of the President" in order to neutralize the threat of invasion by the United States. According to Sturgis, others at the meeting included Raúl Castro, Che Guevara, Ramiro Valdés, and "an Argentine woman who is believed to have been a Russian KGB agent". He said that Ruby had also made several trips to Havana in the months before the assassination in order to arrange deals in which arms would be sold to Cuba and in which illegal drugs from Cuba would be smuggled into the United States. Sturgis also claimed that Lee Harvey Oswald was involved in the conspiracy, and that other governments either were involved in the conspiracy or knew of the conspiracy. He said that his investigation did not reveal that Cuban exiles were involved in the assassination.
Sturgis declined to specifically identify the sources of his information, but noted he said that they included members of the "anti-Castro Cuban underground". He further claimed that associates of his involved in intelligence had independently confirmed his report. According to Sturgis, his report was made in early 1964 and that it was given to "certain American intelligence agencies, including the Senate Internal Security Committee". He said that he did not know if it had been forwarded to the Warren Commission. Similarly, Sturgis said that information about the 1964 reports had been provided to the Rockefeller Commission as well as the Church Committee's intelligence subcommittee chaired by Richard Schweiker, but that he did not know if they received the actual reports.
Sturgis stated he was revealing that he made the reports in order to refute "the leftist element in the country" who claimed the CIA was involved in the assassination of Kennedy. Jack Ruby's brother, Earl, responded to the allegations as "outlandish", "ridiculous", and "absolutely false".
In September 1977, Marita Lorenz told Paul Meskil of the New York Daily News that she met Oswald in the fall of 1963 at an Operation 40 safe house in the Little Havana section of Miami. According to Lorenz, she met him again before the Kennedy assassination in 1963 in the house of Orlando Bosch, with Sturgis, Pedro Luis Díaz Lanz, and two other Cubans present. She said the men studied Dallas street maps and that she suspected that they were planning on raiding an arsenal. Lorenz stated that she joined the men traveling to Dallas in two cars and carrying "rifles and scopes", but flew back to Miami the day after they arrived. In response to her allegations, Sturgis said he did not recall ever meeting Oswald and reiterated his previous denials of being involved in a conspiracy to kill Kennedy.
On October 31, 1977, Sturgis was arrested in Lorenz's apartment after Lorenz told police that Sturgis threatened her in an attempt to force her to change her testimony to federal investigators. In an interview with Steve Dunleavy of the New York Post shortly after he posted bail, Sturgis said that he believed communist agents had pressured Lorenz into making the accusations against him. Later that week in Manhattan Criminal Court, charges against Sturgis were dropped after the prosecutor told the judge that his office found no evidence of coercion or harassment. Recapping the series of events, Timothy Crouse of The Village Voice described Sturgis and Lorenz as "two of the most notoriously unreliable sources in America".
After the death of Hunt in 2007, Saint John Hunt and David Hunt revealed that their father had recorded several claims about himself and others being involved in a conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy. In the April 5, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone, Saint John Hunt detailed a number of individuals implicated by his father including Sturgis, as well as Lyndon B. Johnson, Cord Meyer, David Sánchez Morales, David Atlee Phillips, William Harvey and an assassin he termed "French gunman grassy knoll" who many presume was Lucien Sarti. The two sons alleged that their father cut the information from his memoirs, "American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate and Beyond", to avoid possible perjury charges. According to Hunt's widow and other children, the two sons took advantage of Hunt's loss of lucidity by coaching and exploiting him for financial gain. The Los Angeles Times said they examined the materials offered by the sons to support the story and found them to be "inconclusive".
Sturgis is also linked to the assassination, on December 4, 1980, of Portuguese prime minister Francisco de Sá Carneiro and 6 other people aboard a Cessna aircraft, in what became known as the Camarate affair. He was named by two of his alleged accomplicies, Fernando Farinha Simões and José Esteves, in a written confession, as the person who pressed the button of the detonator to activate the bomb on the plane.
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 the US backed 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.
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 named Autumn.