911: The Evangelical Christian Connection
The money man behind two Florida flight schools which trained an as-yet undisclosed number of terrorist pilots has ties with the Evangelical Christian Right, including having loaned televangelist Jerry Falwell a reputed $1 million to bailout his failing religious enterprises a decade ago, and serving as Director of an avowedly Christian aeronautics company planning to manufacture a new business jet in Israel, the MadCowMorningNews has learned.
Rudi Dekkers’ financier Wallace J. Hilliard, 70, has so far managed to avoid being caught in the glare of publicity surrounding former business partner Dekkers, currently facing a charge of felony fraud as well as an ongoing multi-agency federal investigation.
But Hilliard's Huffman Aviation, the Venice flight school which trained both pilots who crashed airplanes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, has recently been embroiled in controversy in Falwell’s Lynchburg, VA. hometown.
As the MadcowMorningNews reported last February, a previously-unknown company housed inside Huffman was awarded a large government contract at the airport in Lynchburg under circumstances that had left aviation observers there uneasy.
Revelation of Huffman owner Wally Hilliard's prior ties with the controversial Falwell may finally shed some light on that murky transaction. In addition it provides something of a window on the successful entrepreneur whose company’s unusual corporate motto was reported to be “Hate Sin, Fight Communism, and Back the Pack!”
We met a former Hilliard executive who told us that at one time he been assigned the task of dunning the founder of Liberty University and Pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church to repay the note.
"The Falwell note was an outstanding receivable I was assigned to collect,” explained the former executive.
The Lord works in mysterious ways
In the course of trying to get Falwell to address the unpaid debt he heard details of the Rev. Falwell’s accounting practices upon which the Almighty would presumably frown.
“I talked to Falwell’s accountant, who was very apologetic,” the former Hilliard executive stated. “He said there was plenty of money to pay off the loan, except any time there was money left in the account at the end of the month Jerry stripped it out.”
“Falwell’s accountant told me 'if I can pay you in chunks off the books so Jerry doesn’t see it, I can get it handled.’
"So we worked out a payment schedule. And after that checks drawn on Liberty University came in for a few months, until Falwell figured out what was going on and put a stop to it,” Hilliard’s former manager stated.
In an occasionally contentious interview with the MadCowMorningNews Hilliard confirmed making the loan to Falwell.
Asked how much he had lent the Baptist minister, Hilliard reply was, “More than I want to tell you about.”
A native of Green Bay, WI., Hilliard had retired to Naples, FL. in the mid-'90's only to then go on a buying spree of aviation assets in Southwest Florida that eventually ran into tens of millions of dollars with an unlikely partner. Rudi Dekkers had been the subject of a relatively recent federal investigation and had a reputation as a deadbeat that was so bad that at one time he reportedly couldn't buy aviation fuel at the Naples, FL. airport… for cash.
While Rudi Dekkers' mounting legal woes have been the focus of those probing the Venice operations of the ‘terror flight schools,’ his business partner Wally Hilliard has been adjudged an equally-interesting character deserving of equally-close scrutiny.
"Just leave the watches with Raul"
Hilliard’s Rolodex, for example, includes everything from Whitewater scandal figure Truman Arnold to Evangelical Christian mover-and-shaker Falwell, and even includes Latin American dictator Fidel Castro.
Hilliard owned the only air carrier claiming to have regular service to Havana, and made numerous trips to Cuba courting Castro for business concessions, using the simple expedient of flying in bearing what sources described as "hand-full’s of Presidential Rolexes.”
In addition to hanging out with Reverend Jerry Falwell, Wally Hilliard has a second tie to the Evangelical Christian milieu, as a Director of VisionAire Corp in St. Louis, an aircraft developer which spent millions of dollars developing a business jet but never sold a plane.
Jim Rice, the company’s CEO and head “VisionAire,” was a former religious fundraiser, who ran his business as something of a religious crusade. When asked why he founded the company he credited divine inspiration.
"I had been wondering what God wanted me to do next," he said in an interview at his home. "When I pray, it's more listening than asking. The more I listened, the more I felt this is what He wanted me to do."
VisionAire's headquarters at Spirit of St. Louis Airport was described by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as having an “undercurrent of spirituality,” with one employee telling the paper she had come to work at the company after being attracted by the “strong Christian faith” of top management.
But that faith must have been sorely tested by a widely-publicized $30 million civil lawsuit filed by two former officers. They alleged that they had complained to CEO Rice that he had misled investors about the company’s prospects for FAA certification.
Then all hell broke loose.
There's no such thing as Christian porn
The two officers had been having, apparently, an illicit affair; their suit alleged that in retaliation for their allegations the company "caused video recordings to be made of plaintiffs' private activities,” and then "unreasonably publicized private and personal details of plaintiffs' lives."
VisionAire Corp. officials won dismissal of the suit, but it was a Pyrrhic Victory, since they never won FAA approval for their plane.
As the company’s finances worsened, some "enraptured" employees ended up working for free, or even subsidizing their employer by using their personal credit cards to pay for company expenses.
One former employee told a reporter, "A lot of us felt the company had let us down. Not intentionally, but we felt bitter and kind of stupid for listening to Jim Rice in the first place."
CEO Rice was confronted by one investor who angrily told him, "My investment isn't worth anything now!"
That night, Rice later told a reporter, he had prayed for the investor. "I forgave him. He was an angry man. He was in more pain than I was."
In a bid to keep the plane alive, in 2001 Rice solicited Israeli involvement; a July 3, 2001 press release from Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) describes Israeli plans to help the manufacturer attract funding to manufacture the six-seat business jet in Israel.
What are they hiding down in Venice, Florida?
The unanswered question is whether Hilliard’s colorful political and business associations provided a rationale for entering into an aviation partnership with Rudi Dekkers. The two were–universally, so far as we can tell–regarded as an Odd Couple by observers at the Venice and Naples airports.
It is widely believed, and confirmed by Hilliard himself in various court filings, that Wally Hilliard lost millions of dollars in his aviation adventures with Rudi Dekkers.
What is less well-known is that at the time of their purchase of Huffman Aviation in May of 1999, the partnership was already losing sizable amounts of money every month on their recently-purchased Naples flight school.
Hilliard and Dekker’s aviation operations appeared to make no discernible business sense. Even the terror flight school purchase came at an inflated price, according to local aviation observers.
“They did no due diligence to the best of my knowledge,” stated Coy Jacobs, who owns a sales and maintenance facility at the Venice Airport.
Stated Jacobs: “They blew into town. They were here a day or two…met with Stan Huffman, he named a number, they said yes and wrote him a check, and then they notified the City of Venice of what they had done after the fact.”
“And that’s a criteria. You cannot transfer properties at this airport, and most federally funded airports, without the governing authority’s approval.”
Wally Hilliard and Rudi Dekkers’ purchase of Huffman Aviation in 1999 set in motion a chain of events that led directly to people hanging out of 100th story office windows in New York and asking themselves whether it would be less painful to jump.
Both Atta’s terrorist cadre and the Arab terrorist bombers of the early ‘90’s, several of whom also attended flight schools in the U.S., clustered around just a handful of flight schools, leading to speculation that the hijackers might not have had totally easy and unfettered access to any flight school in America they pleased.
It appears they may have been siphoned into only a few. It is not clear that had Hilliard and Dekkers not teamed up in a Venice flight school that the terrorists would have just gone to another.
A Green light from God
Being associated with Huffman Aviation seems to have been an excellent calling card with a variety of government agencies, it now appears.
Lynchburg reporters looking into “Britannia Aviation” quickly learned it was a virtually non-existent as a corporate entity, and would have needed to grow to be considered even a dummy front company.
Nonetheless, Britannia was awarded a sizable government contract to run an aviation maintenance facility at the Lynchburg Airport, for which they lacked the requisite FAA licenses, over a local Lynchburg company vastly-more qualified and substantial.
The City Fathers of Lynchburg, VA. greased the way for a company which no one knew anything about, other than that it had been housed at Huffman Aviation.
Hilliard and Dekkers’ hasty purchase of Huffman without prior government approval exposed them to serious business losses should they not receive approval for a lease at the airport.
But the City Council of Venice smiled with favor on them, and they received kid glove treatment from local city officials, who nonetheless would have been happy to see them move their operation somewhere else.
The Huffman/Lynchburg story grew immeasurably in significance when a Britannia executive boasted of his firm’s experience in working with regional air carriers, during a Lynchburg City Council meeting.
The Britannia official cited as proof an existing maintenance contract which Dekker’s Huffman Aviation had with air carrier Caribe Air, which is widely viewed as a CIA proprietary.
The consternation at the airport in Lynchburg has not diminished in the six months since Britannia moved in. Instead, suspicions have grown, because of what observers cite as the “secretive nature” of operations at the facility.
When the owner of a hangar at the Venice Airport asked an aviation source with government connections about Britannia Aviation it created a bit of a stir.
"This guy got all excited as soon as I asked," he told us.
"He immediately wanted to know why I was so interested in Britannia. Finally he reluctantly told me that Britannia had a 'green light' from the DEA at the Venice Airport, whatever that means. He also said the local Venice Police Department had been warned to leave them alone.”
We don’t know what having a “green light from the DEA” means, either.
But it certainly sounds like an impressive credential.