Venice FL ‘Terror’ Flight School Owner Arrested

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a1good7The owner of the flight school in Venice FL where the two hijackers who crashed airliners into the World Trade Center took flight lessons, was arrested last May after assaulting his 17-yr old step-daughter outside a sports bar in Naples, Florida.

78-year old Wallace J. Hilliard of Naples FL was charged with misdemeanor battery on May 28 2008, according to Collier County, FL arrest records.

"The victim was sitting on  the sidewalk crying," stated Naples Police officer Melvin Payne, first to arrive at the scene.

Hilliard stopped his car behind the girl as she walked down a street outside the "Sports Clip" bar in Naples, the police report states, and became physically abusive.

He began pushing her, the step-daughter reported. She stated she asked him, "Are you going to push me again like when I was a little kid?"

'That's when Hilliard smacked her in the face,  stated the police report.

Hilliard and the girl (we'll protect her name) had been job-hunting.

"He stopped his car behind her as she was walking," an eyewitness told police. "Then he walked up behind her and hit her twice in the back of the head."

The witness told Hilliard to stop hitting the girl.

Hilliard's reply was, "Do you really want to get involved in my personal life?"

"I do if you're going to hit girls," said the good Samaritan.  Then he called the cops.

Secretive financier' owned Mohamed Atta's flight school

patriciahilliard121The daughter involved in the altercation with Hilliard has since relocated to Utah.

In the wake of Hilliard's arrest  several Naples residents who socialize with Hilliard contacted us to express outrage about his behavior.

"In public, and at church, they are the epitome of a good family," wrote one disapproving neighbor. "Behind closed doors, not so much."

From their comments it was possible to piece together an account of the turbulent private life of the 78-year old Hilliard.

His wife, Patricia, is at 46  thirty-two years his junior. She has five children from a  previous marriage. After the two wed, Hilliard adopted her children. He also adopted his new bride's Mormon faith. 

Several sources told us that Hilliard moved back to Naples from Apopka, FL last year to file for divorce. Wife Patricia and children soon followed, and the two reconciled.    

"Mrs. Hilliard has made it known," sniffed one local matron who sees her socially. "She is waiting for Hilliard to die so that she can keep his money."

Making this sordid tale of more than puerile interest: Hilliard played an as-yet undetermined role in the curious choice of Mohamed Atta and his terrorist compatriots to attend a flight school in a sleepy retirement community, Venice, Florida, whose attraction for the hijackers remains an enduring mystery.

After leaving Venice in December of 2000, Mohamed Atta and bodyguard Marwan Al-Shehhi returned there on three separate occasions  during the six weeks of their lives, according to Brad Warrick, who rented the duo three separate cars from his car rental agency in Fort Lauderdale.

No one knows why.

Unexamined circumstances in 3000 deaths

heroinexpress Compounding the sense of mystery and cover-up surrounding the terrorists' stay in Venice is another unexplained fact:

Less than three weeks after Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi began flying lessons on July 3, 2000 at Huffman Aviation in Venice FL,  Huffman owner Wally Hilliard's Learjet was swarmed by DEA agents brandishing submachine guns after it landed, on July 25, at Orlando Executive Airport.

 The Lear, agents discovered, was carrying 43 lbs. of heroin, an amount known in the trade as “heavy weight.”

The Orlando Sentinel called it "the largest seizure of heroin in Central Florida history." 

Today we're placing online, and in perpetuity,  the DEA affidavit, and the forfeiture hearing regarding Hilliard's Learjet.

In a virtually unprecedented action, the DEA argued that Hilliard was not merely an innocent aircraft owner. He hadn't just been victimized and remained unaware while crafty drug traffickers chartered his plane.


Hilliard lost the plane.

A typical day at the 'office'

casablancaairAfter retiring to Naples in 1996, Hilliard hobnobbed with an assortment of international 'players" who are decidedly uncharacteristic of circles  a retired-to Florida insurance executives might normally travel in. 

A retired insurance executive from Green Bay Wisconsin, Hilliard appears to be the last person anyone would suspect of up-to-their-necks involvement in international intrigue, drug trafficking, or geo-political stratagems. 

Aviation mechanic Dave Montgomery, known as “Jet Dave” at the Naples Airport, thinks that may have been the point. Montgomery witnessed a secretive meeting between Hilliard and the founder of Waste Management, garbage king Wayne Huizenga, conducted entirely inside a helicopter on the tarmac at Naples airport.

Huizenga, who at that time was also the owner of the Miami Dolphins,  flew in on a chopper with a Dolphins helmet emblazoned on the side, Montgomery said. Hilliard went out to meet it, and got in.

Then the two men then sat inside the helicopter for almost an hour.

"And it was hot that day in Naples," the aviation mechanic said.  "And they just sat there, in the sun."

Steamy, unseemly, & busted for heroin.

WJHNaples flight manager Danielle Clarke told us Hilliard didn't act like someone who had retired. Naples was in the middle of the action. 9/11 hijackers Atta and Marwan flew there regularly.

"The man quickly purchased—and in very short order—a fleet of fifteen jets. He spent between $30 and $40 million on planes. He still (in 2003)  has 20 very expensive airplanes left, including Lear 35s, and Gulfstreams.”

Clarke, a British aviatrix who came to Florida after her British pilot husband died, snorts at Hilliard's attempt at portraying a “pious man."

“Wally came in quite a bit, seemed very compassionate, made a lot of references to God,” she said. “You’d be talking about business; then all of a sudden he’d mention the Good Lord."

She waved a hand dismissively. "It got to be a bit much.” 

Especially in light of the fact that Hilliard’s taste in secretaries was particularly un-Godly. Summer (Hilliard's personal secretary) was 5 foot 7, long blond hair, and a real looker, Danielle Clarke said.

"She wore exceedingly short skirts and very low cut tops," Clarke remarked tartly.

"You struggled to find a bit of cloth on the woman!"

Also, at some point in there, 22-year old Summer Jeffries was busted for heroin at the airport.

A 'loan' to Jerry Falwell

jerrywallyIn the seven years since 9/11 Wally Hilliard has remained embroiled in controversy.

For example, in Jerry Falwell’s Lynchburg, VA in 2002 a previously-unknown company housed inside Hilliard’s Huffman Aviation in Venice managed to win a large government contract at Lynchburg’s Airport, under circumstances that left aviation observers there feeling queasy.  

Several years earlier Hilliard had "loaned" Jerry Falwell $1 million to bailout his failing religious enterprise, a loan the televangelist never repaid.

When it won the big contract, Britannia had two employees and a bank balance of $500. Their main competitor had $45 million. In cash.

Hilliard is currently the subject of  a multi-jurisdictional  fraud investigation into a scheme which may have cost investors as much as $100 million.  The State of Florida Office of Financial Investigations and the FBI have interviewed witnesses, including over 50 people,  mostly from Wisconsin, who lost millions.

Hilliard never alerted investors that he was under investigation, had a federal tax liability going back to 2001,  and had been denied an airline license by the FAA.

Tommy Barranza is reportedly currently under suspicion for structuring  cash transactions so Hilliard could avoid currency reporting.

Hilliard is suspected of funneling large amounts of cash to the Bahamas. 

Not in Florida baby doll

KatherineHorseRecords at the U.S. Dept of Transportation reveal that between August and December of 2006, Prestige Airways flew 419 flights between Florida and Haiti.

That's 80 flight a month. Prestige used another "sham corporation" formed by Wally Hilliard, Air Solutions LLC,  to actually fly the flights for very non-prestigious Prestige.

Typical of Hilliard's "boxes-within-boxes" business approach, Air Solutions, itself a dummy front company, was managed by a third company.

Guess who owns Badger Air. 

Frequent Hilliard "business associate" Tommy Barranza was along for a piece of the action, as he was when Discover Air, a Hilliard-owned flight school in Orlando, was busted out, its assets transferred illegally to a Hilliard-controlled parent company. 

Left holding the bag in that caper were flight students, who lost their life savings.  It wasn't pretty. Some appeared ruined for life.

"At least three million got siphoned out of ATA and into Discover Air," an attorney for the students told us. "The money flowed out of the country to the Bahamas."

Nothing came of the investigation.

Hilliard has friends in high places, including former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

During a recent settlement hearing, a  woman who recently sued Hilliard said she asked Hilliard if he ever worried about going to jail.

"Not in Florida, baby doll," Hilliard replied. "No one ever goes to jail in Florida."

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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.

2 Responses

  1. Dave miller says:

    I am looking for a current address and contact info. On Wallace.  Hilliard,  an old friend..from the early 1990s….if you could help.  Thanks,  djm

  2. Katherine Bentley says:

    Wally Hilliard is in a home for senior citizens in Madison WI. He is suffering from dimensia. … This is his adopted daughter Katherine Hilliard