Republican Operative Led Organized Crime Ring
An organized crime ring fronted by a former Republican operative, who claims to have learned the 'art' of money laundering as part of the Iran-Contra operation, was behind a massive drug move two years ago this week which ended with a DC9 airliner from St. Petersburg Fl busted in Mexico carrying 5.5 tons of pure cocaine, the MadCowMorningNews has learned.
The crime ring backing the flight of the DC9 was led by self-described Iran Contra insider Marc Harris, whose associates number at least three convicted drug traffickers of note.
Harris is a former staffer for Senator Jesse Helms, and his ties to the national Republican Party go back to at least 1988, when he was the Florida manager for former US Army General, National Security Advisor and White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig’s presidential campaign.
According to a newspaper in Panama, where he operated while on the lam, many of Harris' biggest clients were prominent Republican politicians.
Iran Contra "Blast from the past"
In addition to drug trafficking, the ring is also accused of looting dozens of publicly-held companies for a period spanning almost two decades, duping investors in 'small cap' publicly-held companies using 'pump and dump' stock fraud schemes.
According to experts in financial crime, the ring operates as a so-called “hyena pack" responsible for bankrupting dozens of public companies like SkyWay Communications.
Until he was sentenced to 17 years in federal prison for felony fraud, Harris operated from a roost offshore in Panama during the mid '90’s.
In addition to General Al Haig, Harris also boasts a more than passing acquaintance with Iran Contra stalwarts like Gen. Jack Singlaub.
And as befits anyone engaged in global organized crime, his spook connections are multinational, extending from Chile to Peru.
Our Man in Lima: Peruvian Flake
Former Peruvian spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos, for example, narrowly avoided arrest, and subsequent public disclosure of the CIA's role over a decade in support of now-deposed and disgraced Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, by fleeing Peru in Marc Harris' jet.
Ironically, when, under pressure from the United States, Harris was seized by Nicaraguan authorities in Managua and summarily expelled from the country, he was flown back to Miami to be formally arrested on a US Department of Homeland Security plane which looked much like the DC9 involved in the 5.5 ton bust.
Although Harris is currently in federal prison, his associates are still active, and control SkyWay’s successor company, now poised, under a new name, World Capita, to repeat the pattern of fraud.
"Typical Caribbean crime."
The ring controlled SkyWay Communications, as well as the firm's twin DC9's, and is known informally to law enforcement officials as the Orlando Mafia (with no known ties to the more famous Italian Mafia.)
Among the members of the ‘hyena pack’ are Skyway Communications’ Chairman Glenn Kovar and his son and partner-in-crime, Skyway President Brent Kovar, the last true owners of the busted DC9 airliner.
“It's typical ‘Caribbean crime,’” explained one financial expert who has tracked the group for a decade. “The group has a strong base in Florida, and offshore in Costa Rica and Panama.”
The Orlando-based ring maintains connections to political figures in Florida and Texas, as well as to well-known former Iran Contra operatives, and operates with seeming official impunity.
Bush Pioneer Led Secret Life
It includes such well-known fraudsters as Saudi arms dealer (and CIA fixer) Adnan Khashoggi, himself no slouch when it comes to busting out public companies. Khashoggi made off with 300 million from GenesisIntermedia, court documents reveal, in the Stockgate fraud.
One of the three companies used in the swindle, Holiday RV, was owned and run by Michael Farkas, who founded SkyWay, and a secretive Midwestern media baron and Bush "Pioneer," Stephen Adams, who personally bought one million dollars worth of billboard ads in support of Bush's 2000 run for the Presidency.
Even though no one seems to be trying very hard to find him, Khashoggi is currently a fugitive from justice in the case.
At one time, Khashoggi's chief lieutenant and fellow Saudi swindler, Ramy El-Batrawi, former President of Jetbourne, a Miami CIA proprietary which flew Oliver North's TOW missiles to the Iranians during the Iran Contra Scandal, owned both DC9's later owned by SkyWay.
Also, apparently, difficult to police.
"In an American Scandal, the bodies pile up."
While it is well-known to law enforcement officials, the group nonetheless operates with apparent official impunity, perhaps bolstered by strong relationships with prominent politicians and national Republican figures like Florida Senator Mel Martinez and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.
“These guys have very openly looted public company after public company,” said one financial fraud expert we spoke to. “I’ve seen a list of as many as seventy small public companies looted, or ‘busted-out, by this one ‘hyena pack.’"
"Yet they’ve somehow managed to escape criminal prosecution.”
The financial expert we spoke with insisted on anonymity. He was concerned, he said, over the mysterious disappearance 18 months ago of a disgruntled investor who had mounted a challenge to the group…
Until his disappearance, Chris Ford was one of the hyena pack’s most vociferous critics. One person we spoke with, who has personal knowledge of the case, suspects foul play.
"Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss."
The April 11 2006 bust in Cuidad del Carmen in the Mexican Yucatan kicked off the current drug trafficking scandal. It went into high gear eighteen months later, with the discovery of 4 tons of cocaine on another airplane from St. Petersburg, this one a Gulfstream II business jet.
The subsequent corruption and drug smuggling scandal has been roiling Mexico, but not yet the U.S., and has led to the seizure of a fleet of over 100 drug planes which were purchased, say U.S. and Mexican authorities, with drug money from Mexico’s dominant Sinaloa Cartel.
Although this Friday marks the second anniversary of the seizure of the DC9 airliner— dubbed “Cocaine One” because it was painted to look like official U.S. planes owned by the Dept. of Homeland Security—U.S. law enforcement officials seem no closer than before to arresting Americans who may have assisted the cartel's efforts.
Even though the Americans who sold drug smuggling aircraft to Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel comprise a virtual Who’s Who of politically-powerful players, many with links to U.S. military intelligence, the CIA, and the Dept of Homeland Security, the FBI and the DEA have not considered any of the American sellers to be suspects in the case.
"Mum's the word" at the St. Petersburg Times
The Americans were unaware of who they were selling their planes to, law enforcement officials continue to insist. Its a point of view with which the owners are only too happy to agree.
For example, the St. Petersburg, FL-based DC9 was registered to–but not owned by–Frederic Geffon, a man who claims he is innocent of any wrongdoing because, before its seizure in Mexico, he sold the plane to an "aircraft broker" in California.
Days later, after the plane had already been busted in Mexico (and the horse already out of the barn) Geffon faxed a bill of sale to the FAA. Yet neither the FAA nor any law enforcement agency have taken Geffon to task for clearing himself after the fact.
Also, a check of FAA records shows that "aircraft broker" Jorge Corrales has no discernible history of buying and selling airplanes for a living. Yet despite this transparent ruse, no Americans have yet been charged with any crime.
St. Petersburg is home to two airports currently receiving scrutiny for their associations with as many as 11 planes which found their way into drug cartel fleet, according to a story by Bill Conroy in NarcoNews.
And The Tampa Tribune reported that St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport is a focus of an international investigation into the purchase of airplanes by a Mexican drug cartel.
However, according to the hometown paper where the story takes place, the St. Petersburg Times…Mum's the word.
"Back-dated sales documents? No problem!"
This apparent lack of official enthusiasm for prosecution of the possible American partners of Mexico's dominant Sinaloa drug cartel extends to investigating their financial crimes as well.
The official in charge of SkyWay’s bankruptcy, for example, told us he had gotten a court order ordering Frederic Geffon not to sell or even move, the DC9.
Geffon, according to the bankruptcy official, blatantly ignored the court order, replaced SkyWay’s name with his own on the DC9’s FAA registration, and sold the plane.
To date, Frederic Geffon has not been charged with any crime.
Similarly, the bankruptcy official told us, he had informed airport officials in St. Petersburg of the court order preventing the plane from taking off.
All to no avail.
The Homeland Security Inc. Scandal
When Conroy's NarcoNews story fingered a man named Donald A. Mitchell as a close associate of SkyWay fraudsters Glenn and Bernie Kovar, our interest was piqued.
"(SkyWay's) Glenn Kovar has another interesting business associate, according to a check of Florida’s corporation records. Glenn Kovar is listed as an officer in an inactive Florida company called Homeland Security Tracking Enforcement Inc., along with his wife Joy and another businessman named Donald A. Mitchell," Conroy reported.
Mitchell, along with both Kovars, was also a director of a cookie-cutter successor fraud scheme to Skyway, another Homeland Security-related scam company called Homeland Security Tracking Enforcement.
To change corporate shells and continue his career in felony fraud, SkyWay President Brent Kovar’s business card merely changed the lettering around the bogus seal designed to resemble that of the Dept of Homeland Security.
"Dilley-Dally Your Way to Riches"
Donald Mitchell, the article also revealed, was a long-time associate of Marc Harris in Costa Rica and Panama. So was another SkyWay insider, named Carl Dilley.
While the SkyWay bankruptcy fraud cost investors in that company over $40 million, Dilley was close to the action as SkyWay’s stock transfer agent, and a key player in the scheme.
During the mid-1990's Dilley worked with Harris in Central America.
More recently he was the President of E-Rex, another sham company, like prior sham companies the ring has successfully looted: Satellite Access Systems, SkyWay, E-Rex, and Adnan Khashoggi's Genesis Intermedia.
It's the ultimate scam: A company with no purpose other than to defraud investors. And they've worked it to perfection, numerous times, helped along by a 'wink and a nod' from the SEC and law enforcement authorities.
In a February 2, 2002 e-mail responding to an unflattering article, E-Rex President Carl Dilley wrote: "I have no control over the gamblers of the world that would be so foolish as to put their life savings in any OTC stock, including ours."
Dilley avowed, "No one should put one penny in this company that they are not prepared to lose."
"Hyena pack" defined
"Very small publicly-held companies can be looted by people controlling other small companies," explained Larry Lindsey of SageGroup, a company which has tracked Harris' ring's activities for disgruntled investors whose stock is now worthless.
"Together, they form a "hyena pack," secretly conspiring while appearing to be independent of each other."
The MadCowMorningNews has previously reported, with some puzzlement, that SkyWay, despite being an obvious fraud with no product, received glowing endorsements in press releases in the weeks before it went bankrupt from seemingly reputable entities, including a major U.S. defense contractor, and the State of Florida's Dept. of Transportation.
Now we knew why we'd been puzzled. Without knowing it, what we'd been witnessing was the operation of a hyena pack.
A Hyena Pack-and-a-half
Nothing, however, has so far been offered by anyone that can explain SkyWay’s curious associations with top Republican operatives and politicians… everyone from Texas Bush-backer and kingmaker Richard Rainwater, who leased the company an aviation repair facility at DFW International Airport in Dallas (it didn’t need one, at least not for aircraft repair) to Florida Senator Mel Martinez, who used the DC9, gratis, during his run for the Senate four years ago.
Another Republican "hyena pack" link is San Diego defense contractor Titan Corp., which issued a press release in 2004, the biggest campaign contributor of Republicans Randy Cunningham and Duncan Hunter, only one of whom is (as yet) in jail.
Just before Skyway went bankrupt, the company's stock price got a boost from a fawning press release about a deal between SkyWay and Titan Corporation…
“SkyWay Communications Holdings Corp Announces New Business Strategy as the Result of Agreement with Major US Defense Contractor,” read the press release headline.
"We are excited about the possibilities Sky Way Aircraft System technology offers," said Titan's David Stinson.”
The clearly pleased David Stinson, before signing on with Titan, was Exec VP at Intergraph in Annapolis Maryland, whose Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) deal with convicted Republican fraudster Brent Wilkes opened a money spigot which clearly remains open.
Felony Fraud by Major U.S. Defense Contractor
The press release reveals that felony fraud was being committed by people with national security clearances.
Titan Corp., which had an undisclosed financial interest in SkyWay ( because of its suspicious early investment in what was then only a 'paper' company) was announcing it was buying a half-billion dollars worth of a product which didn't exist, from a company Titan must have known was soon to go bankrupt.
The outcome? Mom and pop investors, including a teacher's pension fund in Tennessee, were left holding the bag, and lost all their money. ALL their money. The stock ended up trading at a fraction of a penny.
And the outcome for 'the boys' at SkyWay?
It was time for drinks all around.
Nor is this the first time Titan has been implicated or convicted of major crime. If Titan Corp were a person, instead of a corporation its convictions for illegal activities would have invoked most state's three strikes laws.
The Other White Bush
But it is SkyWay’s connection to former Governor Jeb Bush which may ultimately prove to be the fraudsters most interesting Republican link…
Just two weeks before SkyWay's biggest stockholders sued company management for fraud as the firm lurched towards bankruptcy, Gov. Bush’s Florida Dept. of Transportation issued a glowing press release touting the firm’s bright future in Homeland Security while announcing SkyWay had been chosen to be the state’s primary provider of airport security applications.
"I participated in the installation at the FDOT (Florida Dept of Transportation)," one of Skyway's earliest employees told us. "The guy in charge there told us that airports in Florida were all told the state would reimburse them 100% for any airport upgrades we performed that had to do with security."
"From "lock and load" to "pump and dump"
In another unexplained financial move, Titan Corp., although located 3000 miles away, was one of Skyway's earliest investors, putting $70,000 into what was then just a shell corporation.
And perhaps therein resides the answer. From a May 31, 2005 in the New York Times story headlined "C.I.A. Expanding Terror Battle Under Guise of Charter Flights."
"The controversy (over CIA rendition flights) has breached the secrecy of the agency's flights in the last two years, as plane-spotting hobbyists, activists and journalists in a dozen countries have tracked the mysterious planes' movements," the paper reported.
"Behind a surprisingly thin cover of rural hideaways, front companies and shell corporations that share officers who appear to exist only on paper… the Agency has concealed its ownership behind a web of shell corporations that appear to have no employees and no function apart from owning the aircraft."
The "national security override"
While it goes unmentioned in the Times story, SkyWay founder Michael Farkas even incorporated a company a few years back that was called "Shell Corporation."
At least they have a sense of humor.
So, there's that.
But these people are powerful, and untouchable, and unscrupulous, and there is, about them, more than just a whiff of some sort of extra-constitutional "national security override" of any and all other considerations.
This is troublesome for more reasons than we can count, chief among them because (and even 'they' might agree)…
The Sisters of Mercy they're not.