identity of the pilot of the American-registered DC-9 (N900SA) from St.
Petersburg FL caught carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine in Mexico's Yucatan several
years ago, long a mystery, finally saw the light of day recently in Mexico.
a Venezuelan, was the DC9’s pilot who was said to have “escaped” from the
airport while his airplane was being seized, and four other members of his crew
He was later taken
into custody by Mexican authorities, and charged with flying an airplane packed
with 128 identical suitcases filled with cocaine.
Getting caught with
5.5 tons of cocaine would seem to call for some serious jail time. Reporters in
Mexico assumed he’d been sent to prison for, like... forever.
So imagine reporter Francisco
Gomez of Mexico City's
El Universal surprise when he made a startling discovery: Carmelo Vasquez
Guerra—amazingly and inexplicably—had been released from prison less than two years after being arrested.
The shocking news was
delivered via an international headline stating that a pilot named Carmelo
Vasquez Guerra had been arrested in the West African nation of Guinea Bissau on a
twin-engine Gulfstream II carrying... what else? 550 kilos—a half-ton— of cocaine.
An inexhaustible supply of get out of jail free cards
of Vasquez's West African arrest was
July 13, 2008.
authorities had nabbed
Carmelo Vasquez Guerra, Gomez learned, not long after
authorities discovered him missing from the DC9.
it he was
jail, less than two years later,
Francisco Gomez asked.
Authorities in Mexico refused to discuss Vasquez Guerra's release with reporter
But news about Carmelo kept coming, and
kept getting worse. Gomez discovered that
Mexico was not the
only country to arrest Vasquez Guerra for the presumably major offense of flying
box-car sized loads of cocaine, only to let him go.
in three. Caught and
released under mysterious and unexplained circumstances. in Mexico, in Guinea
Bissau, and in Mali, home of Timbuktu.
Carmelo Vasquez Guerra—or , more likely, the global drug trafficking network to which he
belongs, which has, it must be said, a strong and enduring presence in St
Petersburg FL, the shuffleboard capital of the world-- has an apparent inexhaustible supply of “get out of jail
Bloomberg Magazine reporter Michael Smith story last week, "Wachovia’s Drug Habit,” about
the bank’s sordid history of laundering drug money for Mexican drug cartels, can
be seen in
an entirely new light.
Wachovia's nasty habit of
moving money around for Mexican drug smugglers, the story reported, provided the
clean cash necessary for the purchase of a still-undisclosed number of
American planes, including the DC-9, which cumulatively flew at least 22 tons of
cocaine, which put the massive drug bust aboard the DC9 back in the news.
The DC-9 from St Petersburg FL is on one end of an
equation, with Wachovia, which laundered the money that bought it, on the other.
is there nothing but silence?”
the story first broke of the massive DC9 drug bust inCiudad del Carmen, one of the ten largest in history at
that point, some observers—well, us, at least—noted
how embarrassingly thin it appeared in certain crucial details.
were claims of credit for the bust by the DEA, even though early news reports
said the coke was disccovered almost by accident, and crediting it to one alert Mexican sergeant, who
had remained on duty at the airport after its normal 6 pm closing time.
sergeant wasn't identified, for obvious reasons. We call him Sergeant Garcia.
The DC9 was loaded with a lot of luggage.
carrying no passengers. Garcia noticed.
the blandishments of airport personnel, as well as those from a sizeable contingent
from Mexico’s Federal Preventive Police (PFP), brave Sergeant Garcia
demanded to search the plane.
Ironically, the PFP is a 7-year old FBI-trained federal police force whose main
mission is enforcing Mexico’s laws against drug trafficking.
Soon reinforcements arrived.
Mexican troops ringed the airport, and surrounded the plane.
co-pilot and other crew members were quickly taken into custody. But the
slippery but unnamed chief pilot managed to somehow slither through a crack in
the tight security, and slip away undetected.
still, the crafy fellow had also had the presence of mind to take his name with him
when he fled. And while the story was still on the front page of Mexican
newspapers--while it still mattered-- his name was kept out
of the newspapers.
later, his identity had still not been disclosed. We grew suspicious. And we
are the results of the investigations of the airplane seized with cocaine?”
plaintively asked Mexico’s City’s Expreso newspaer two months later.“How
is it possible that this confiscation, as important as it is, has not been
will there be information about this?
is there nothing but silence?”
Mexico's drug policy: "Catch and release?"
silence was broken the day Carmelo Vasquez Guerra was forced to land an
American-registered Gulfstream II (N351SE) at Guinea Bissau's Osvaldo Vieira
plane had mechanical problems.
(In our experience, which is admittedly not
hands-on, when drug trafficking by professionals goes awry, that is usually the reason.)
The plane got busted. And soon international headlines
were reporting it with some excitement.
Even just a few years ago, South American
cocaine being shipped to Europe through West Africa was still
seen as something of a novelty.
So Carmelo's arrest was more widely publicized than would otherwise have been
Although reporter Francisco Gomez' questioning fell on deaf ears, he
learned something very
Carmelo Guerra Vasquez wasn't the only prominent drug trafficker
to have simply "disappeared" after being busted in Mexico.
Gomez counted six.
With each arrest authorities held
a triumphant press conference to celebrate the latest victory in the war on…
whatever. Later, they were quietly released.
certain favored drug traffickers, is Mexico's drug policy
catch and release?
Real courage, real journalists
After the DC9 bust, and
the very real threats faced by all Mexican journalists, Ricardo Ravelo
was another Mexican journalist who went looking for answers.
Ravelo,author of a recent book on drug cartels in Mexico,
Ciudad del Carmen. There, he
‘committed journalism,' interviewing people who work at the airport.
Several days before the DC9 landed,
they told him, an atmosphere of intrigue hung over the airport, as thick as
evening before the DC9 arrived, Ramon (a PFP officer) appeared at the airport
with González Virgen, who said he was in the intelligence division of the PFP,”
one civilian worker at the airport told him.
said they were installing new procedures for registering landings. He would need
to speak with all the civil employees of the terminal. And what he wanted to
talk about was an ‘economic adjustment’ that would allow the plane loaded with
5.5 tons of cocaine to land the next day.”
discovered that as many as a dozen Federal PFP officers had been
working to ensure the success of the drug move, including five in Ciudad del
Carmen, who attempted to keep airport personnel from calling in the Mexican
officers visited Mexican airports where the DC9 was scheduled to land, in Toluca
and Monterrey, presumably to drop off part of the load.
The DC9 flight was, at some level,
officially-sanctioned. What sociologists call "elite deviance:"
state-sponsored organized crime.
"Fueling a conspiracy theory" made simple.
suspicion about the Dc9’s pilot’s escape and the subsequent lack of information
about him gave a few reporters from the mainstream media the sanction they
needed to characterize me as...choke...
a conspiracy theorist.
DC-9's pilot escaped," Flight International magazine noted dryly, "fuelling
the St. Petersburg Times, it was all just a ghastly comedy of
they suffered unfortunate business reverses, innocent local
businessmen were being unfairly subjected to public derision.
but fair sampling from the paper’s most extensive story on the massive drug
operation conducted in their hometown, headlined “Plane with a Past
Disappears,” conveys the tone of bored certainty the
paper had somehow arrogated to itself.
“(Brent) Kovar is in bankruptcy court,” the paper reported, referring to one
of the two last listed owners of the DC-9.
“(Frederic) Geffon, who would not say how much money he lost in the
deal, spent weeks in news and internet reports linked to an international
rusted-out DC-9 wasn't fit to fly, but the aircraft broker from California
called anyway. The man known as Jorge
Corrales wanted the plane, tail number N900SA.
"How To Tell When You're Being Lied To for Dummies"
the DC9 is now back in the news, we feel moved to offer a few corrections to the
folks at the St Peterburg Times, in a good faith effort to,
well, help them catch
up on the story.
Jorge Corrales is not, and never was,
an aircraft broker...
to the three major online venues used to sell airplanes revealed no sign indicating that Jorge “George” Corrales is an aircraft broker.
A LEXIS-NEXIS newspaper
database search yields no mention of Corrales and Associates.
A Google search fails to
find any aircraft brokers named George or Jorge Corrales, or a Corrales and
(an industry magazine for aircraft brokers and dealers) search shows nothing for
Corrales & Associates...
And it’s a free
search for broker/dealers selling McDonnell Douglas DC9’s in California at The
Controller revealed just three DC9’s for sale, from just two dealers.
Aviation was the listing broker for two of the three DC9’s currently for sale in
OK Aviation's owner, Jack
Kendall, says he knows every DC9 aircraft broker in the state.
And he has never heard of
Complete this sentence: Frederic Geffon & Brent Kovar should be
The FAA stamp on Frederic Geffon'd transfer of ownership
documents to the FAA clearly show that,
for Geffon, they
were received on April 11th... one full day after the Dc9, registered in
Frederic Geffon's name, went down carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine.
Geffon's transfer of ownership paperwork
lost in the mail, either. The papers were faxed.
If Mexico's policy towards
preferred drug traffickers is "catch and release."
Maybe the U.S. policy can be said to generously offer "mulligans"
to its favored transportation contractors.
Hometown paper of the drug trafficking organization (DTO) in question.
conspiracy theorist who runs a popular Web site continues to link both
(Frederic) Geffon and (Brent) Kovar to the Mexico bust,” sneered St. Petersburg
Times reporter Aaron Scharockman.
blogger calls the plane "Cocaine One" because of its
presidential-looking paint job.”
Apparently, that’s me to whom he's referring
Petersburg Times' incredibly obtuse coverage of the scandal may owe something to
it's status as the hometown newspaper of the drug trafficking operation in
the paper's coverage illustrates one essential point about drug trafficking.
Everything operates on a sliding scale, depending on who you are, where you are,
whom you know, whom you ask, and who you’re ‘with.’
most important thing is, apparently, to be ‘with’ somebody.
The truth that really hurts is
having a press that's less free than Mexico's.
It's humiliating. And while certain elements
of the American elite may profit from it...
Once again, the rest of us get stuck with the
"Troubling and unanswered questions"
story of the willing participation in laundering drug money by what was then
America’s 4th largest bank puts a welcome spotlight back on a case with a number
of troubling and so-far unanswered questions about two American planes from St
Petersburg busted in Mexico carrying 5.5 and 4 tons of cocaine... with no
repercussions to their American owners.
The first, an American DC-9
(N900SA) whose livery convinced even savvy planespotters that it belonged to the
Dept of Homeland Security (and perhaps it did), was carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine
neatly packaged inside 128 identical black leather suitcases, each of which bore
a stamp on the side reading “Privado.”
The second, a Gulfstream II
(N987SA), had used by the CIA, when it wasn’t running drugs, in Colombia, and to
fly extraordinary renditions, making several trips to Guantanamo documented by
the EU Commission which was instrumental in charges being brought against a
half-dozen CIA agents in Italy.
The Bloomberg story on Wachovia
proved that the bank operated
as what federal prosecutors usually call “a continuing criminal
enterprise,” except, apparently, when large national banks are involved.
officials have gone after Mexican cartels transporting drugs into the U.S.,
and even slapped the wrist (lightly) of the huge and dirty bank whose money
laundering made it possible.
they have maintained a conspicuous silence about the American criminal
conspiracy which sold planes to the Sinaloa Cartel, despite evidence and
testimony and even official DEA documents introduced in extradition hearings in
Mexico, freely admitting that the Americans who sold a fleet of luxury jets to
their cartel counterparts south of the border were anything but
innocent victims of wily drug traffickers.
its not too late to put a few of the New American Drug Lords feet to the fire
over owning airplanes caught carrying tons of cocaine.
But, hey... we suppose we could be wrong. Its
happened before. S--- happens, right?
Maybe there is an
innocent explanation for everything.
Maybe drugs just show up, unbidden, like
And maybe Carmelo Vasquez Guerra
didn't escape each time he got busted.
he just "released himself on his own recognizance."