They combed through the trash. They searched dozens of planes. And while TV cameras from all the Miami TV network affiliates looked on, they loaded box after box filled with aviation records into government SUV’s parked in plain sight on the tarmac in front of the office.
But today— more than two weeks after more than 100 Federal agents from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Homeland Security descended on the headquarters of the infamous and notorious World Jet Inc. at the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport—if you want to know why they were there or what they were looking for, you’re two weeks too late.
That’s because the detailed 35-page affidavit supporting the request for a search warrant of Don and Bill Whittington’s air charter company filed at the United States District Court in Grand Junction Colorado has been sealed.
But not, thankfully, before it was discovered and leaked onto the Internet in an exclusive story by reporter Joe Hamel from The Durango Herald in Durango Colorado.
“I found a search warrant and one affidavit during a regular trip down to the Federal Courthouse to check on what’s new,” reporter Hamel said in an interview. “But when I went back a week later to check for new filings, it was gone. The whole case has been sealed.”
“The whole case has been sealed.”
Alone among major crimes, drug trafficking is often treated as a matter of “grave” national security. No one will say why. But there’s a lot of money involved…
This penchant for secrecy is especially clear in the case of the two American-registered drug planes from St Petersburg Florida busted in the Yucatan, whose seizure revealed that Wachovia, then America’s 4th-largest bank, had laundered $378 billion for Mexican drug cartels.
For example, “Raul Jimenez Alfaro,” who investigators identified the man in charge of bringing the DC-9 busted in the Yucatan carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine north to the U.S., pled guilty under an alias to drug charges in a Federal Court in Miami, keeping his role in the massive 5.5 ton drug move secret.
Another recent example is Juan Carlos Abadia. The DEA called him the biggest drug cartel boss since Pablo Escobar, the leader of the world’s biggest drug cartel, and the man responsible for exporting more than 500 tons of cocaine—worth in excess of $10 billion to the United States.
Yet when Abadia pled guilty to drug trafficking and racketeering in a US Federal Court in 2011, not one newspaper in America covered his conviction. It went completely unreported. The DEA didn’t didn’t even issue a press release.
Compounding this “anomaly”is another strange fact: Although Abadia was sentenced to 25 years in Federal prison, a search of the prisoner locater at the Federal Bureau of Prisons website does not list his name as among those currently incarcerated. Phone calls asking about his whereabouts to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons were met with a terse “no comment.”
“Gaming the system” is “Call of Duty” for elite deviants
The DEA affidavit details a year-long investigation of aircraft dealer Reginald “Don” Whittington, 67.
The Whittington’s, the affidavit states, are suspected of illegally leasing aircraft from Florida to cocaine cartels and laundering drug-related profits through a hot springs resort hotel and a ranch in Colorado.
It contains startling information about the ease with which Mexican and Colombian drug cartels are able to purchase US aircraft—as well as a certain amount of protection— from brokers like Whittington, or the unmentioned Larry Peters of Skyway Aircraft in St Petersburg, who has also sold numerous drug planes to Mexican cartels with apparent impunity.
The scheme works like this: the Whittington’s company would sell airplanes at inflated prices to drug traffickers, but maintain the title and American registration number in the name of World Jet or a designated nominee. Then, after the smugglers were done with the planes, World Jet would “repossess” them, at a tidy profit.
The clear virtue of this strategy is it provides “plausible deniability.” And even if the airplane is caught, by claiming to be an “innocent owner,” there’s a good chance the participants will get back the plane.
The affidavit confirms reporting published here which called into question the very existence of Donna Blue Aircraft, the Florida company which the FAA listed as the owner of a Gulfstream II which went down in the Yucatan on September 24 2007 carrying four tons of cocaine.
Suspicions about the two plane’s “unusual” chain of ownership turned out to beright on the money.
The affidavit sates, “On September 24, 2007, a 1975 Gulfstream II turbo jet bearing tail number N987SA crashed in the Yucatan Peninsula while carrying 3723 kilograms of cocaine, which was recovered by the Mexican Government, as documented by DEA Mexico City.”
“N987SA was owned by Donna Blue Aircraft Inc, which was subsequently identified as a front company for a Tampa Florida-based ICE undercover operation named Operation Mayan Jaguar.” (emphasis mine.)
The “Tampa-based ICE undercover operation” likely provided “cover” for a CIA operation, which “sheep-dipped” an already-owned CIA plane, the Gulfstream II, to a dummy front company, Donna Blue Aircraft.
As I reported five years ago, the registration history of the Gulfstream II (N987SA) indicated the plane had been “parked” or “sheep-dipped” in and out of the hands of a motley crew of politically well-connected ‘straw’ owners, whose ranks included a secretive Midwestern media magnate who bought more than a million dollars of billboard advertising for Presidential candidate George W Bush in 2000; a lieutenant to Saudi “fixer’ and long-time CIA asset Adnan Khashoggi; and most recently individuals in New York with strong connections to the Russian Mafiya.
“Hail hail, the gang’s all here!”
Several days after the crash of the Gulfstream II in the Yucatan, I paid a visit to the address—4811 Lyons Technology Parkway #8 in Coconut Beach FL—that “Donna Blue Aircraft Inc” listed as its home address on FAA documents.
What I found was an empty office suite, with a blank sign out front. There was no visible sign of any entity called Donna Blue Aircraft, Inc.
What there was, however, were a half-dozen unmarked police cars parked directly in front of the empty suite.
Donna Blue Aircraft (d-b-a- doing business as, get it?) was a dummy front company cut from the same cloth as decades-worth of CIA dummy front companies.
Moreover the brief description of Donna Blue on its Internet page was such a clumsy half-hearted effort that it defeated its purpose of constructing a plausible “legend,” or cover.
Here is where the affidavit reveals perhaps more than was intended.
“Earlier in 2007 this aircraft was sold from a Delaware-based company SA Holdings LLC of Donna Blue Aircraft, which in turn produced bill of sale for the aircraft to Clyde O’Conner and Greg Smith.”
“Clyde O’Conner and Greg Smith had long been targets of DEA investigations for the trafficking of cocaine from South America to Central America and Mexico. As well, Gregory Smith currently works as a contract pilot for World Jet. Don Whittington and World Jet were implicated in brokering the sale of N987SA from SA Holdings LLC to the undercover company Donna Blue Aircraft.”
A “pilot of interest” flying loads all over
A little later, the affidavit states that Federal agents had Don Whittington under surveillance on a flight from Fort Lauderdale to their resort in Pagosa Springs New Mexico in mid-April of last year.
The flight was piloted by “Gregory Dean Smith.”
“Gregory Smith has been identified in other DEA investigations as a pilot of interest due to intelligence that indicated he was a contract pilot who had flown loads of cocaine from South and Central America to points in the US and Mexico.”
Brazilian Joao Malaga of Donna Blue Aircraft—now known to have been fronting for an ICE operation— explained to authorities that pilots Greg Smith and Clyde O’Conner paid him $2 million in cash to purchase the Gulfstream.
Malago’s statement was greeted with derision by insiders at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport who know both men, I reported.
Neither man is anywhere near wealthy. One, Smith, is anything but.
“Greg Smith’s a good pilot, and dependable, and I never thought twice about hiring him to fly a charter for me,” a charter aviation manager told me.
“Except I always had to be sure to always front him money for expenses, or I’d get phone calls from the backside of nowhere telling me they didn’t have enough money to gas up the plane to fly home.”
“Operation Mayan Jaguar”
Bill Conroy of NarcoNews had reported that the now-mangled drug plane had been used for at least a decade by the CIA to fly “extraordinary renditions “to the US base in Guantanamo and to ferry extradited drug traffickers from Colombia to the USA.
At least on the surface, the DEA affidavit appears to indicate otherwise.
On the other hand, there is the possibility that the DEA was looking at pilots O’Conner and Smith as “persons of interest” in drug trafficking investigations at the same time the CIA was employing them as pilots?
Anyone who remembers Barry Seal would seem to have no trouble answering, at least tentatively, “yes.”
Another place we got it right: The DEA affidavit called the Tampa-based ICE operation “Operation Mayan Jaguar.” Bill Conroy called it “Operation Mayan Express.”
Especially when dealing with a government which jealously guards information on drug trafficking that they themselves aren’t sponsoring as a matter of (usually ‘grave’)national security, that’s close enough for television. Or government work.
So far, so good. Kudos to Bill Conroy of NarcoNews, the only other reporter following the story, and to (immodestly) me as well.
ICE running amok?
This is a case of ICE running amok,” a DEA source told Conroy. “If this [operation] was being run by the book, they would not be doing it unilaterally” – without the participation of DEA – “and without the knowledge of the Mexican government.”
For my part, I’d interviewed the No 2 DEA official in Miami, who insisted on anonymity for reasons which will soon become obvious.
In my whiniest citizen-journalist voice, I asked him plaintively, “How come you guys aren’t investigating the planes out of St Petersburg busted with 10 tons of cocaine?”
He calmly replied that one Federal Agency does not, as a matter of course, investigate the operations of another Federal Agency.
What had been exposed by the Dc-9 and Gulfstream II seizures, he said, was a rogue U.S. Customs operation (ICE is part of Customs, which in turn is part of Homeland Security).
For further answers, he pointed my to the Homeland Security’s Office of Professional Responsibility, charged with investigating internal misconduct.
Five years later, I’m still waiting to hear back from them.
Disneyland for Spooks
The Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport looms so large in recent American history that it may one day get national landmark status. It’s the hub of one of Florida’s biggest and most lucrative industries. A playground for elite deviants from both North and South America.
It’s Disneyland for Spooks. An otherwise unprepossessing local airfield that’s just a hop skip and a jump from almost anywhere—the Bahamas, the Caymans, Turks & Caicos, Puerto Rico—that anyone in the drug trafficking/money laundering industry needs to go.
The Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport is the Little Airfield That Could.
Yet local state and federal authorities have been unable to summon the will to plug what is by now a glaringly visible national security loophole, perhaps because the enormously lucrative traffic in money, weapons, drugs, diamonds, and even terrorists that takes place using business jets cruising at up to 40,000 feet and available only to a select few among the international elite.
In the coming days, I will begin to detail some of the truly shocking revelations contained in the DEA affidavit that somehow has wiggled its way into the public domain.
But it strains credulity to think there is much there that the DEA didn’t know five or ten or even twenty years ago.
Now that the notorious Whittington brothers are— once again—the target of a major DEA investigation, the real question is: Why now?