Flight School Owner’s Plane Seized for Heroin Trafficking

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by Daniel Hopsicker
October 24—world exclusive

A Learjet belonging to the true owner of the Venice flight school that trained both terrorist pilots who flew into the World Trade Center was seized with more than 30 pounds of heroin onboard by Federal Agents in July of 2000 at the Orlando Executive Airport.

Authorities at the time called it the biggest seizure of heroin ever found in central Florida.

The seized plane belonged to 70-year old Wallace J. Hilliard of Naples, FL., multi-millionaire businessman, self-styled Mormon Bishop, and the newly-discovered secret owner of Huffman Aviation at the Venice Airport since its purchase in 1999, just months before terrorists began arriving in force in Southwest Florida.

Hilliard was already well-known in aviation circles as the ‘money man’ and deep-pocketed financial backer of Rudi Dekkers, according to local aviation observers like chief flight instructor Tom Hammersly, who taught at the Venice Airport while the two flight schools there experienced a flood of Arab student pilots.

“What we heard was that he (Dekkers) had somebody in Naples backing him financially. We all knew that the money he (Dekkers) flaunted was not even his money, that he was just a ‘front’ man for the man who had the money,” stated Hammersly in an interview in “Mohamed Atta & the Venice Flying Circus.”

Though in his many media appearances Rudi Dekkers portrayed himself as both president and owner of Huffman Aviation, this claim, like so many other Dekkers’ pronouncements, is untrue.
Lying on and off-the-record

Court documents filed in August at the Sarasota Courthouse reveal that the so-called ‘Magic Dutch Boy’ never completed the Huffman sale, ‘neglecting’ to pay for his shares of stock in the resulting corporation.

While terrorist student pilots flew in veritable squadrons (as many as sixteen at a time) over Venice, Wally Hilliard had been Huffman Aviation’s true owner.

Nor is this the first time Rudi Dekkers has ‘neglected’ to pay for shares in business ventures. In 1995 in The Netherlands, the MadCowMorningNews has learned, Dekkers incorporated a company and never paid for his shares of stock in it either.

A Dutch court adjudged Dekkers guilty in that case of acting “in a manifestly improper fashion,” and said that “his manifest failure to properly manage the company was an important cause of (the firm’s) bankruptcy.”

As a result, Rudi Dekkers, a man who was invited to testify before the Congress of the United States of America on his thoughts on preventing future terrorist attacks, is today a fugitive from justice in his native Holland.

And while Rudi Dekkers busied himself training thousands of young Arab men to fly, from his base in Naples, just a short helicopter ride south of Venice, his partner Wally Hilliard was running a charter jet service called Plane 1 Leasing which provided the jet carrying 30 pounds of heroin.
“Celebrity Endorsement as Double-Edged Sword”

At the same time their planes were flying back and forth from Venezuela with illegal cargo Hilliard’s charter service was also, unbelievably, being utilized at virtually no cost––despite the fact that rentals for Lear jets can run as high as $1,800 an hour––by Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Even stranger, both Governor Jeb Bush and Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris were providing celebrity endorsements to Hilliard’s operation well after the company’s Lear (N351WB) had been busted by DEA agents armed with machine guns.

Pretty poor advance work, at the very least…

One would think a sitting Governor seems well-advised to steer well clear of anything to do with heroin trafficking. Yet Governor Jeb Bush honored  Hilliard’s operation––called at various times Florida Air, Sunrise Airlines and Discover Air––with a personal visit, even posing for photos with the “Discover Air family.”

The company promptly commemorated the memorable event by posting pictures of the visit on their website.

Finally somebody in the Bush camp realized their lethal potential exposure, and the webpage was hastily taken off the Discover Air site.
Getting Google-ed

But they didn’t reckon with Google’s heralded cache system. So today you can see the page in all its former glory.

Alas for Discover Air, soon after beginning operations they were forced to see their shortcomings in headlines, like this June 28, 2001 doozy from the hometown Orlando Sentinel: AIR SERVICE TO MIAMI FLOPS; NOT ONE PERSON BOUGHT A TICKET, SO DISCOVER AIR HALTED PLANS FOR FLIGHTS FROM DAYTONA BEACH.

Having “not one person buy a ticket” would seem to be hugely embarrassing to a fledgling airline… if scheduled passenger service was the true aim of the Enterprise.

Katherine Harris’ endorsement of the Hilliard/Dekkers operation must also be providing her with some bad moments today:

“As one of Florida’s top politicians, Katherine Harris doesn’t have much time to do a lot of personal traveling,” read the Sarasota Herald Tribune’s chatty lead.

“But twice in the past month or so, the secretary of state –who received national attention for her role in the November presidential election — has taken the 75-minute plane ride from her current home in Tallahassee to her old stomping grounds in Sarasota. Her choice of airline? Florida Air, a start-up commuter airline based here, grasping to be an air-taxi for the entire state.”

‘She has taken the airline twice,’ Harris spokesman Ben McKay said. ‘She
appreciates the convenience that Florida Air offers.'”

Since at the same time then-Florida Secretary of State Harris was “appreciating their convenience” Florida/Discover Air had been  flying passengers without holding an air carrier certificate, Ms. Harris’ reputation as a stickler for the letter of the law can be said to have suffered something of a beating.

Is it just incredible bad luck that these two prominent Florida politicians endorsed an operation that both trained murderous terrorists AND brought heroin into America?
Criminal Conspiracies & Florida: Like Cookies and Milk

Heroin overdoses kill more people in Orlando each year than anywhere else in Florida. The city’s growing importance as a major transshipment point for heroin prompted Congress to officially designate Central Florida a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

Thus the investigation which resulted in the big seizure was launched with some intensity after a Colombian national, Nassar Darwich, was arrested in Orlando with 1.3 kilograms of heroin in the soles of shoes he was carrying.

As a result of Darwich’s arrest, DEA agents were waiting two weeks later when the Learjet landed at the airport on July 25, and swarmed the plane brandishing machine guns, according to eyewitnesses.

Passengers Edgar Valles and Neyra Rivas, both of Caracas, Venezuela, were arrested after 13 kilograms of heroin was found hidden in the soles of tennis shoes stashed in their luggage. The pilot was not arrested, according to a DEA spokesman, because of a lack of evidence.

The flight plan of the Lear 35A originated in Venezuela and made a stop in Fort Lauderdale before landing in Orlando, with New York as its final destination. Eventually five people in Orlando were convicted in connection with the seizure, including two Venezuelans who were traveling aboard the jet when it landed at Orlando’s Executive Airport, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

“It confirms the sad fact that a massive amount of heroin is coming through Central Florida,” U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Brent Eaton told the paper when the arrests were announced.

“It’s very disturbing to the DEA that more and more high-quality heroin is coming from Colombia and at a cheaper price.”

Apparently the DEA was “very disturbed” enough to look more closely at Hilliard’s jet charter operation. The result was their firm opposition to returning the plane to Hilliard.

And although no one from Plane 1 Leasing was charged with any crime, there appears to be abundant evidence pointing to the conclusion that––at the very least––the company  had to have known what was going on.

“It was just blatant,” said one aviation observer. “That same plane flew that same run thirty or forty times, ferrying the same people. And they always paid cash for the rental.”

“The red flags could not have been raised any higher.”

The plane’s frequent roundtrips to South America were confirmed by an official at Executive Jet Service, the facility which serviced the jet at Orlando Executive Airport, who stated the plane made weekly down-and-back runs to Venezuela.
This isn’t Watergate. It’s bigger.

Three weeks after his jet was impounded by the DEA, Hilliard asked for it back in a motion filed in the U.S. District Court in Orlando, arguing that he was an ‘innocent owner’ unwittingly duped by a known individual.

“Plane 1 and its officers shareholders and directors were not aware of the identity of the passengers utilizing the Lear 35A on this trip other than Mr. Valles,” stated Hilliard’s motion, and were “unaware that the individuals chartering the plane were engaging in criminal conduct,” as well as being “not aware of any facts from which they should have been aware that individuals leasing the plane were engaging in criminal conduct.”

The U.S. Attorney’s office opposed the plane’s return, “because the property was used or acquired as a result of a violation of the Controlled Substances Act.

In a hearing on November 3, 2000 Federal Magistrate Judge James Glazebrook denied Hilliard’s motion to get his Lear back.

“Wally took a big hit on that one,” stated one aviation observer at the Naples Airport. “The DEA was not going to let him have that plane back.”

“The DEA was planning on adding it to their Border Patrol fleet,” confirmed a spokesman for the Lear jet’s current owner. East Coast Jets of Allentown,  PA. bought the plane, they told us, after the insurance company which had insured it for the lender against seizure successfully wrenched it back from the DEA after Hilliard had been removed from the picture.

Wally Hilliard’s central role in the purchase and operation of the flight school that was a magnet for Mohamed Atta and the Hamburg cadre requires raising some serious questions about his charter jet company’s possible involvement in heroin trafficking…

Especially since the chief product for export of Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist organization was also, strangely enough, heroin.

Perhaps this is all just coincidence.

But one has to wonder: will these questions ever be asked in a proper forum?

Is there even a pretense of democracy in America anymore?

Testifying in the wake of the 9/11 attack before the Senate Banking Committee about terrorist connections in money laundering, Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff said:

“Frankly, we can’t differentiate between terrorism and organized crime and drug dealing. These groups don’t hold themselves independently: they work with one another. Terrorists get engaged in drug activity. They have relationships with organized crime.”

Too true, dude. Too true.

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Daniel Hopsicker

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist and the author of two books on transnational crime, Welcome to Terrorland and Barry & the Boys.