was a kind of quiet Mena (Arkansas)," stated a former drug pilot for The
Company. "Jackson Stephens built this huge headquarters next to the airport. And
he was in charge. But I do remember seeing Porter Goss around the airport a
The airport where three
of the four terrorist pilots in the 9/11 attack learned to fly was a hub of
operations in the 1970’s and early ‘80’s for “The Company,” an
international drug smuggling organization headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky
and Mena, Arkansas.
Led by a mysterious
Cuban exile, who used the alias “Frank Guzman,” The Company’s contingent at the
Venice Airport numbered as many
as a dozen
pilots and associates.
The Company began
receiving national attention in the early 1980’s.
whose name is a commonly-used euphemism for the CIA, was profiled in Sally
Denton’s best-selling book “The Blue-Grass Conspiracy,” which
raised pointed questions about
the involvement of the CIA with the group.
The 60-year secret
history of covert CIA and military operations at the Venice Municipal Airport
now coming to light goes well beyond anything previously known to have taken
A Cuban exile in the Warren Commission Report... at the Venice Airport
report in the April 28, 1982 San Francisco Chronicle headlined "Story of
Spies, Stolen Arms and Drugs," stated The Company consisted of "about
300 members, many of them former military men or ex-police officers with nearly
$30 million worth of assets, including planes, ships and real estate."
testified that “The Company” smuggled billions of dollars worth of narcotics
into the U.S. from Latin America, as well as being involved in gunrunning and
At the Venice
Airport, in addition to Frank Guzman their number included: Stephen Ruth,
who we reported on earlier in
Confessions of a Drug
Smuggling CIA Hit Man," Lee Crowell, Joseph Brea, Richard Curry,
George Quarles, and several others, including a local attorney, who have been
missing in action for more than 20 years.
first surfaced at the Venice Airport in 1974. He became an instant
celebrity, as well as something of a novelty, because he was the owner of the
first jet to ever be based at the Venice Airport.
A now-defunct Sarasota
newspaper called the Sarasota Journal did a profile of him soon after he arrived
under the headline “Venice Jet Flier Creates a Stir.”
It was a prototype Navy
jet fighter called the Super Pinto, one of only 14 ever made, which could climb
from the ground to 10,000 feet in just 55 seconds.
He ingratiated himself
with the local political establishment by volunteering to fly it as a stunt
plane in local air shows for charity.
Despite the reporter’s
efforts, exactly how Guzman how come to possess a rare Navy jet fighter plane
remained a little hazy. So, too, did Guzman’s former career. He was identified,
without further explanation, as a “manufacturer.”
The story did reveal
Guzman’s difficulty in obtaining spare parts for his jet, with necessitated
trips to the planes’ manufacturer, Temco Co, in Dallas.
"The guy's shoes cost more than my car."
Strangely, Temco had a history in Venice which the reporter failed to note.
The founder of Temco (later LTV),
was D.H. Byrd, who owned the Texas School Book Depository where
President Kennedy was killed. And as we’ve seen in previous stories like
Big Safari, the Kennedy
Assassination, & the war for control of the Venice Airport, the
airport was the site where Byrd's Regulus missiles for the Air Force were
For the next five years
Guzman ran a business at the Venice Airport.
Then on May 3, 1979,
disaster struck. “Former
Venice Businessman, Pilot found shot to death” read next day’s headline in
the Sarasota Herald Tribune.
“A former Venice
businessman and pilot was found shot to death in an East coast motel room in
what police there theorize was a drug-related execution,” the paper reported.
“The Dania FL Police
Dept identified the 49-year old dead man as Frank Guzman, the former owner of
Sunair Enterprises, a flying service based at the Venice Municipal
Guzman had been found
by a maid on the floor of his fifth floor room at the Howard Johnson’s across
from the Fort Lauderdale Airport. Someone (the killer was never identified) had
put a 32 against the back of Guzman’s head and pulled the trigger.
The motel would later
achieve infamy during Iran contra as the site of meetings between Oliver North
and mercenaries flying to Honduras to work with the contras.
An “associate” of
Guzman’s in Venice and Fort Lauderdale, Joseph Brea, was missing and presumed
dead, police said.
The story contained a
great quote from a cop on the scene:
“Guzman was definitely
into the big bucks,” said Lt. James Serpe of the Dania Police Dept. “This guy’s
shoes cost more than my car.”
The slaying bore all the earmarks of a
a later story indicated, in
which police speculated that Guzman may have been associated with the “Black
Tuna” smuggling group.
The truth would come
out almost a year later, in a story in the April 30 1980 Sarasota Herald
at a federal trial in Indianapolis has linked a murdered Venice
businessman and a missing Sarasota aircraft dealer with an international drug
“On Monday witnesses
testified that Frank Guzman, the former owner of SunAir Enterprises of Venice,
and Lee Crowell, owner of Lemac Inc of Sarasota, were members of the drug
ring known as The Company.”
Jeeps to Castro & the
drug ring known as "The Company"
We uncovered evidence
indicating that Guzman’s real name was
Mario Silverio Villamia in testimony to the Warren Commission
investigating the assassination of JFK about the underworld ties of Jack Ruby,
the slayer of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Ruby had approached
Texas gunrunner Robert McKeown about selling jeeps to Castro.
McKeown had been
convicted of the same offense in 1958, said a Commission exhibit dated April 17,
1964. "the company AND "the bluegrass conspiracy"
Also convicted with
McKeown had been the former President of Cuba, Carlos Prio, and four other
men, one of whom was one Mario Silverio Villamia, aged 34, also
known as Frank Guzman.
We did the math.
Commission “Frank Guzman” had been 34 in 1964. Ten years later, in
1974, the Sarasota newspaper profile of “Frank Guzman” reported:
“For the 44-year old
Guzman, the jet is a partial answer to the search for finding excitement in
"Venice was a quiet Mena. And a sweet deal."
We received further
confirmation after we tracked down a former drug pilot for The Company who
spoke with us on condition of anonymity.
He had flown with
Guzman, he said, “at least a hundred” flights to Colombia from the Venice
Airport. We had no trouble believing him. His name and involvement with the
group is well-chronicled in news reports from the time.
After a conviction for
drug trafficking 30 years ago, his life has returned to normal, he said. Today
he is a respected businessman in a city not far from Venice.
“Frank came from Cuba
when Castro came to power,” he confirmed. “He had ties to a former Cuban
President Carlos Prio. Along with other Cuban exiles he participated in the Bay
of Pigs, then worked with the CIA during the 1960’s.”
“Venice was a
kind of quiet Mena (Arkansas)," said our pilot informant.
Stephens had built this huge headquarters next to the airport. And he was in
charge. But I do remember seeing Porter Goss around the airport a lot.”
At that time,
Goss was a CIA Agent assigned to Latin America. He later became a Florida
Congressman from Charlotte County, where he eventually became head of the House
Intelligence Committee. In 2002 he was named Director of the CIA under George W.
“Venice was a
sweet deal. The Coast Guard had radar sites in Tampa and Key West, but nothing
in between. So we’d fly in and out totally unnoticed.”
"Nothing to see here, folks. Move along."
the decade of the 1980's, while drug trafficking exploded, there were two
completely different perceptions about its role at the Venice Airport.
the minimalists and the maximalists...
"Only a few late night
flights use the uncontrolled airfield in Venice," Venice Police Sgt. Jim Hanks
told local reporters. “We’ve only caught two or three smugglers. But there
have been several who keep their planes here and have been caught in other
Local reporters, on the
other hand, begged to disagree.
“In the past year the
Venice Airport has been the scene of several drug raids,” the
Herald Tribune reported on Sept 29, 1983. “In recent years the Venice Airport
has been rocked by vandals thieves and drug smugglers.”
“The airport is
attractive to drug dealers and thieve because it is uncontrolled,” the paper
reported. “Thieves use the uncontrolled airport to drop stolen airplanes,
including stolen private jets.”
The city’s response
was to hire a private security guard to “protect the airport grounds during non-
business hours.” Aviation executives at the Airport were unimpressed.
“We have planes
come in here late at night, drop a load and leave,” said Harold
Haggen, owner of the Venice Flying Service.
“And nobody knows
they’ve ever been here.”
asked Harold Haggen, rhetorically. “The police don’t hardly come around
Even Sgt. Hanks was
hedging his bet a little.
"Pointing to past drug smuggling incidents discovered at the airport, Hanks
said unregulated plane usage there provides an opportunity for planes to come
and go as they please, usually without scrutiny from anyone."
two decades later,
when Mohamed Atta first
cast his malevolent eye down the runway in Venice, not much
For some people,
that was just fine...
The official story of
the 9/11 attack goes like this:
arrival of Atta’s terrorist cadre at the Venice Municipal Airport was
happenstance, and the terrorist’s presence there an accident of history,
unrelated to any pre-existing climate of crime or corruption."
Once again, and
Nothing could be further from the truth.