owner of the flight school
in Venice Florida that trained Mohamed Atta and Marwan
Al-Shehhi to fly is in trouble with the law; current owner
G. Nadel, 75, was
arrested recently for running a Ponzi scheme which methodically
looted investors in his Sarasota-based
hedge funds of more than $300 million.
Nadel's arrest marks the
second time in recent years
that the owner of Huffman Aviation, the FBO (fixed base
of operations) at the Venice Airport has been involved
in crimes traditionally associated with the Mob.
of course, are a trademark Mafia specialty. So, too, is
the crime of heroin trafficking in which previous owner
Wally Hilliard was implicated.
Nadel may have stolen as
much as $350 million from his
hedge fund investors, many of them middle-class retirees
who do not fit the typical hedge fund investor profile
of wealthy people willing to risk their entire investment.
New York tabloids, already in overdrive on the story of
Bernard Madoff, instantly dubbed Nadel Mini-M, for
Before turning himself in late
January, Nadel spent several weeks on the lam.
Rumors spread that Nadel was already dead.
wasn't... Instead he was flying
above the clouds on a sleek luxury jet, from Sarasota
to San Antonio to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New
Orleans. His high-end
31-A offers performance matched by few other civilian
airplanes; it cruises comfortably at 500 miles an hour,
and at an altitude of 51,000 feet,
A few questions no one is
worried, he wrote, about being murdered. But not, we
suspect, by one of the blue-haired widows
from whom he stole millions.
For most of his life, Art Nadel was a "jazz pianist,"
meaning he played the piano in hotel lounges, not seen
as a springboard to careers of looting at will.
Take a closer look at the Learjet he was flying before
his arrest. Does that look like the ride of a piano player?
While previous owner Wallace
J. Hilliard owned Huffman Aviation, and Mohamed Atta was
taking flying lessons, DEA agents busted Hilliard’s
Learjet carrying 43 lbs. of heroin. It was July 25, 2000,
at the Orlando Executive Airport.
lbs of heroin is known in the trade, we have been told,
as " heavy weight."
did city officials in Venice allow the airport's mission-critical
FBO to fall into the hands--not once but twice--of people
otherwise engaged in organized crime?
How many small
towns with barely ten thousand people “boast” a tiny local
airport which play host to terrorist hijackers?
Or been run by a heroin trafficker disguised as a flight
school owner, or a man accused of stealing $300 million
in a huge financial fraud?
shadowy underworld figures have the permanent run of the
airport in Venice, Florida?
It Happened in Venice
each man had purchased the major business at the tiny
Venice Airport, neither Art Nadel nor Wally Hilliard’s
background offered much in the way of clues indicating
involvement with organized crime.
After Nadel went on the lam reporters
discovered he had been a lawyer in New York who was
disbarred in 1982 by the New York Supreme Court.
Nadel 'kept' a client's $50,000 escrow check,
neglected to return it.
was worried, at that time,
to Sarasota Private investigator Bill Warner
reporting on Nadel has outpaced the entire staff of the
local Sarasota Herald-Tribune)
over an unpaid $50,000 loan to a
Nadel was able to borrow $50,000 from a loan shark in
New York in 1980, he already had connections with the
Mob. Loan sharks are not listed in the New York City phone
his part, Hilliard, who owned Huffman Aviation between
1999 and 2003, was an insurance executive who supposedly
‘retired’ to Florida in 1996 from Green Bay, Wisconsin,
not a known hot-bed of Mafia activity.
did have connections, however. Not with the Mob, perhaps,
but with the CIA, through
DuBain, a World War II OSS/CIA operative who became the
chairman of Fireman's Fund Insurance, which announced
plans to acquire the insurance company founded by Hilliard
back in 1982.
later founded a San Francisco
supper club with oilman Gordon Getty and Reagan Secretary
of State George Shultz; his "Pacific Institute"
kept former Bush Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
busy in the 1990s.
"He needed a little alone time."
fraud began to unravel soon after he left his four-bedroom
home for work on the morning of Jan. 14 and didn’t
return. By that weekend the Federal Bureau of Investigation
had joined local police to search for him.
Nadel's attorneys initially denied he was trying to run
away. One of them told reporters, “He went
away for a while just to be alone.”
it was soon clear to all that Nadel was on the run.
Panicked and desperate investors began beseeching Sarasota
police and the FBI to find and apprehend him.
Madoff, but in a smaller social arena, Art Nadel
was considered a trusted and generous philanthropist in
Sarasota. But unlike Madoff, many more "ordinary"
and perhaps slightly less-sophisticated investors were
devastated by Nadel’s Ponzi scheme.
The big question which people
in this dire circumstance are understandably concerned
with is simple:
happened to the money?"
"Fast planes, yep, and lots of hangars too!"
answer has already become obvious. Nadel spent an enormous
amount of money on airplanes and aviation facilities.
used proceeds from the fraud to purchase what he
re-named the Venice Jet Center
at the Venice Airport, the same building whose
blue awning became well-known internationally after the
9/11 attack as the home of dozens of young Arab men suspected
of being terrorists learned to fly.
"passion for aviation" led him to illegally
divert $4 million to the Venice Jet Center and Tradewind
LLC, an aviation company he owns which has aircraft and
hangars in Georgia and North Carolina.
of Nadel’s hedge funds told clients that their money was
gone; that the man behind it had vanished; and that they
were frankly not real hopeful any of it would ever be
Strangely, however, there were two Florida law enforcement
agencies which were seemingly unconcerned by Nadel’s disappearance.
The Sarasota County Sheriff's
Office even announced it was ending its search for Nadel
on the dubious ground that since the Florida financier's
car had been found at a Sarasota airport, he wasn’t
to a January 21 Associated
Press story headlined “Authorities
think money manager planned to vanish,” the Sarasota
Sheriff’s Department reasoning was that Nadel, who
had not yet been charged with any crime, had planned his
own disappearance, and left on his own volition.
doesn't want to be found," shrugged a Sheriff’s Dept.
Perhaps the Sheriff's Department
didn't want him to be found. The
man picked by Art Nadel to look after his interests at
the Venice Airport, Roger Jernigan, worked for the Sarasota
Sheriff’s Dept as a helicopter pilot until forced to resign
under a cloud.
The second Florida law enforcement
agency exhibiting strange behavior during the search for
Art Nadel is the Florida Department of Law Enforcement,
And what they did deserves
its own story.
The War for Control of the Venice FL "Plaza"