Documents Sealed in ‘100 Drug Plane’ Court Case
Reporter threatened with being "cluster-sued!"
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 cartel.
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 lawsuits.
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 gets worse…
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
Camarena's 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 deepening scandal.
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 Chavez.
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
One 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 boss.
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.'
Two years 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 world.
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
The 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 other’s companies.
"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 Khashoggi.
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.
However, 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 the error.
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.