The biggest fish busted so far in
the laundered-drug-money-for-American-planes scheme used by Mexico’s powerful
Sinaloa cartel to purchase 100 airplanes in the U.S. has cut a secret deal with
federal prosecutors in Miami, and agreed to testify against others involved, the
MadCowMorningNews has learned.
The news is one of a series
of recent developments in the scandal, which erupted in the wake of the massive
drug hauls seized on two drug planes busted in Mexico’s Yucatan just eighteen
months apart carrying, between them, more than ten tons of cocaine.
Also last week, a federal
judge in Mexico City ordered the extradition to the U.S. of Pedro Alatorre
Damy, identified by the DEA and the Attorney General of Mexico as the
main money launderer for Joaquin Guzman, “El Chapo,” leader of the Sinaloa
And in another development
which hits close to home (at least for this reporter) the MadCowMorningNews has
been contacted by attorneys for two figures in the case, both threatening
Chickens make way home to roost
The first offer to sue came
in a letter from a San Antonio attorney on behalf of Dennis Nixon, Chairman of
Texas bank International Bancshares of San Antonio (IBC).
Based on the border with
Mexico in Laredo Texas, IBC Bank was used in the money-laundering scheme,
according to an FBI affidavit filed in the case.
We knew little else about
the bank, however, until we received the letter threatening a lawsuit, and we
certainly had no idea at the time that the bank’s co-founder, top investor and
principal owner, Tony Sanchez, had once the target of accusations
that millions of dollars of drug money had been knowingly laundered through his
Texas thrift, called Tesoro Savings & Loan.
Before failing in 1988, at a
cost to American taxpayers of $161 million, the thrift was accused of laundering
$25 million in Mexican drug money, not exactly the ideal credential for a bank
founder and owner.
But, we soon discovered, it
The drug money Sanchez’s S&
L was accused of raking in allegedly belonged to the very same drug traffickers
who had recently witnessed, directed, recorded and participated in the infamous
torture-murder in Mexico of American DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena.
Gaping jaws, violated rectums, buried alive
disappearance while on assignment in Mexico in 1985 had briefly strained
relations between the U.S. and Mexico, especially after the agent’s body was
found in a shallow grave, along with that of a long-time fellow agent and pilot.
Cadaver No. 1, as Red Cross
doctors on the scene labeled it, had been that of a muscular Hispanic male in
his thirties. The left side of the skull was caved in, three ribs were broken,
as well as the right arm. The body also showed numerous lesions; a foreign
object, possibly a stick, had been forced into the rectum.
The rectum of Cadaver No. 2,
a heavyset adult male in his forties, had also been violated, the doctors said.
The jaw was gaping, and the hands had broken free of their bonds, and doctors
were of the opinion that the man had been buried alive.
Texas justice aside, we have
decided that this is one lawsuit we will happily defend.
Guyanese pilot with U.S. all-access "hall pass"
At almost the same time as this
news, we received a second letter threatening to file suit. The letter was from
a Fort Lauderdale lawyer on behalf of Guyanese pilot Michael Francis
Brassington, who we have reported to be linked to the massive corruption scandal
roiling U.S. Customs in South Florida.
What lies at the heart of
the 100 plane scandal, according to a high-ranking DEA official we spoke to in
Miami, is a corrupt U.S. Customs operation run out of Florida.
Although DEA affidavits in
the case suspiciously neglected to mention his name, Brassington had been the
co-pilot on the Learjet belonging to terror flight school owner Wallace J.
Hilliard busted on a runway at Orlando Executive Airport during July of 2000,
the same month Mohamed Atta began flying lessons at Hilliard’s flight school.
According to the Orlando
Sentinel, it was the biggest heroin bust in Central Florida history. The Lear
was found to be carrying 43 pound of heroin, an amount which is known in the
drug trade as “heavy weight,” as in "He's moving heavy
weight every week.'
In innumerable television
interviews with Rudi Dekkers, Hilliard's flight school front man, in the days
and weeks after the 9/11 attack, Dekkers said Mohamed Atta told him that
he was from Afghanistan, a country at that time dominated by the Taliban and
Osama bin Laden producing well over half (it produces a much higher percentage
currently) of the world’s heroin, and was
"Gang-sued' is new legal term
It goes without saying (or
should) that the link between Mohamed Atta’s presence at Hilliard’s flight
school simultaneous with the massive heroin seizure aboard Wally Hilliard’s
Learjet has never been explained.
While the threat of being
“gang-sued” from multiple directions at once is a daunting prospect for our
ability to continue reporting the story, it also seems to be a sure sign of
The first new development
took place in a Federal court in Miami last week, where Pedro Benavides-Natera,
allegedly one of the key figures in the money-laundering scheme which Mexico’s
powerful Sinaloa Cartel used to finance the U.S. plane-buying spree, was about
to go on trial on multiple felony money laundering charges.
Instead, he cut a deal, and
will now presumably be testifying against others in the scheme, in which the
ultimate target may be America’s current bete noire, Venezuelan strongman Hugo
As a result of Benavides’
plea deal, key documents to be used in his trial have now been sealed. As well,
the multiple felony charges against Benavides, a Miami resident with dual
Venezuelan-American citizenship, have been dropped to a single felony count, and
he will learn his fate when his case is disposed sometime in the future.
Washing Medellin money in 1998
of the people Benavides will presumably be testifying against is Pedro Alatorre
Damy, owner of currency exchanges in Mexico used in the scheme, and identified
as the head financier for the huge Sinaloa drug cartel.
Drug profits were allegedly
funneled from Mexican and Colombian drug traffickers from Alatorre’s Mexican
money exchanges to a Miami bank, then used to buy airplanes intended to ferry
more cocaine shipments around the world.
Just as the first two
American planes used in the scheme were discovered to have ties to the CIA, the
Dept. of Homeland Security, and top Republican financiers, the Mexicans already
charged in the case have ties to top officials in Mexico.
The family which controls
the Casa de Cambio Puebla currency exchanges run by Pedro
Alatorre has strong links to Mexico’s ruling PAN party, as well as to
Vicente Fox, who was still Mexico’s President when the
planes were caught.
In fact, the Mexico City
newspaper Reforma recently reported that Pedro Alatorre Damy was already
well-known to Mexican authorities during the 1990’s, and had been investigated
and jailed, after the DEA and Mexico’s Federal Police found that he had been
washing Medellin Cartel money through another now-defunct Mexican currency
exchange, in August of 1998.
Must have asked for the 'good prisoner' discount
Alatorre, after spending
five months in jail, was released.
Another person who Benavides
may be called to testify against is Carlos Ayala Lara, who FBI affidavits filed
in the case state is a top Venezuelan drug kingpin as well as Benavides’ former
The FBI affidavit states
that Benavides, arrested last October, had almost immediately confessed to FBI
agents that his boss Carlos Ayala Lara used Alatorre’s Mexican currency
exchanges to wire million to the United States, including several million
dollars traced to the purchase of American aircraft.
Carlos Ayala Lara can
apparently afford some pretty good legal eagles in Miami. In a prior brush with
American law enforcement, he was allowed to keep half of the drug money which
authorities confiscated from him.
There is some speculation
Ayala may ultimately be linked to Hugo Chavez.
More 'bad apples' and 'rogue operations.'
ago this month, an American DC9 left St Petersburg, FL and flew to Venezuela
which belonged, or appeared to belong, to the Dept. of Homeland Security.
Several days later, at an airport in Mexico’s Yucatan, this plane was busted
carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine.
Then last September, a
Gulfstream business jet took off St Petersburg, FL. and flew to Medellin,
Colombia, where it presumably loaded its cargo before being forced down in the
Yucatan carrying more than 4 tons of cocaine, as well as a large amount of
heroin, which, except for news reports in Por Esto, a Mexican
tabloid, has gone unmentioned.
The likely reason is simple:
the heroin never made it into the evidence locker.
The Gulfstream had been
previously used to fly extraordinary rendition, as well as a host of other
tasks, for the CIA.
And the DC9 was painted to
appear to be an official aircraft from the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security,
without a word of protest from a major U.S. Coast Guard facility located less
than 100 yards from where it was parked.
In an early Bush
Administration reshuffling, both the Coast Guard as well as U.S. Customs had
been placed under the Dept. of Homeland Security.
Maybe because they had pictures of him in a dress?
The resulting investigation
led to the discovery of a scheme in which drug profits were allegedly funneled
from South American traffickers through Mexican money exchanges to a Miami bank,
then used to buy airplanes intended to ferry more cocaine shipments around the
Despite evidence to the
contrary, American law enforcement has glibly pronounced innocent all of the
Americans who sold planes to the Mexican cartel. They were victims of
circumstance, and of the evil cunning of devious foreign drug lords.
The DEA’s assertion that
there are no American drug lords is as unbelievable as the FBI’s J Edgar
Hoover’s longtime insistence that there were no Mafia dons, and no organized
crime in America.
Still, we wondered: Were any
of the Americans who sold planes to the cartel also in business with them? Did
any of the American planes’ owners have connections with the Mob? With the CIA?
Or with major Republican Party financiers?
The answer to all three
questions is “Yes.”
World class organized crime
American ownership of the planes cannot withstand close scrutiny. Evidence was
overwhelming that, despite some sham fast shuffling of registrations, both
planes had been American-registered and controlled when they were busted, and
that the names to whom the planes have recently been registered were known to
have fronted in the past for a much larger enterprise, the CIA.
Collectively, the two planes
from St. Petersburg carried more than ten tons of cocaine that—had they not been
intercepted—would have made somebody richer than they already were by almost a
half billion dollars.
This is world class
crime. And no Americans are likely to be punished for it.
But observers can’t help but
notice that the individuals and companies who owned the planes bought by the
Sinaloa Cartel are inter-linked, and have ties to each other.
Americans who sold planes to
the Sinaloa Cartel are even openly in business together, and Directors of each
"Scene-ster" and felon Adnan Khashoggi
Recent owners of the St
Petersburg FL-based DC9, for example, have interlocking partnerships with recent
owners of the St Petersburg FL-based Gulfstream II business jet.
Though only six of the
planes sold to the cartel have been identified so far, they’re connected six
ways from Tuesday. And their numbers include a bus-load of the usual suspects:
Ramy El-Batrawi, a henchman for CIA fixer and Saudi arms merchant Adnan
El-Batrawi had owned the
airliners which Oliver North used to send TOW missiles to Iran, the beginning of
the Iran Contra Scandal. His company, Jetborne, owned by Khashoggi, was
called a CIA proprietary in the Iran Contra hearings.
none of the American sellers of the airplanes appear to be under investigation
by any law enforcement entity in the entire united states.
Were the Americans who sold
a fleet of drug planes to Mexico’s most powerful cartel just innocent aviation
enthusiasts? Or do they, instead, offer the best glimpse anyone's likely to get
of the world of the highly-elusive American Drug Lords?
NOTE: Recently we
incorrectly reported that money was wired from Mexico to an account at Commerce
Bank in Miami, whose Chairman, we incorrectly reported, was Dennis Nixon, also
the South Texas Co-chair of John McCain’s campaign.
Dennis Nixon's International
Bancshares of San Antonio has no connection to Commerce Bank in Miami. We regret
We have since learned that
court documents show that Carlos Ayala Lara, the target of the
current FBI investigation, also laundered money through the Texas bank.