Huffman Aviation Was ‘Continuing Criminal Enterprise’

Huffman Aviation Was 'Continuing Criminal Enterprise'
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Highlight: It's  hard to avoid seeing the outlines of another cover-up beginning to envelop the continuing criminal enterprise that is  Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida.

3rs Art Nadel, the recent owner of Huffman Aviation accused of running a Ponzi scheme which allegedly stole almost $400 million from investors, is the only person so far charged with a crime.

However if  authorities persist in claiming Nadel was a "lone-nut financial gunslinger" they will be ignoring the richly-documented history of criminal fraud involving the owners of Huffman Aviation that goes back for more than a decade. 

At least four financial scams, each looting more than $100 million,  have criminal roots in the fertile soil— the “Octo-Mom” fertile soil—of the Venice Municipal Airport. 

Almost immediately after its purchase in the summer of 1999 by Wallace J. Hilliard and Rudi Dekkers, the aviation facility became the center of a series of financial scams that included Ponzi schemes, pension fraud, international stock swindles, and fraudulent bankruptcies which have altogether looted more than $1 billion from the American economy.

Huffman Aviation, the flight training facility which housed both of the terrorist pilots who crashed passenger jets into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, has been operating as a continuing criminal enterprise, as defined by the Federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization) Act.

The Huffman Aviation Ponzi All-Stars

new-hilliard55Far from being alone, Art Nadel isn’t even the first owner of Huffman Aviation to benefit from a huge Ponzi scheme…

He's just the most recent.

Huffman Aviation’s first Ponzi All-Star was Wallace J. Hilliard, the owner while Mohamed Atta practiced touch-and-go’s on the airport’s runway. Yet, somehow, this easily-verifiable fact surfaced nowhere in Southwest Florida’s anemic mainstream media. Moreover Hilliard is currently being sued by disgruntled investors in Green Bay Wisconsin for $100 million.

Criminal ventures involving Huffman Aviation will each be considered separately, and at length, in a coming series of stories. They have often been so spectacular as to earn “biggest ever” designations from authorities and the press.

Huffman's criminal highlight reel contains a number of criminal firsts:

  • The Sarasota Herald Tribune  called Art Nadel’s $390 million swindle the biggest fraud in Southwest Florida history."

  • When Wally Hilliard’s Learjet was busted carrying 43 lbs. of heroin at Orlando Executive Airport on July 25, 2000, the Orlando Sentinel called it the "biggest bust of its kind  in Central Florida history.” 

  • Wally Hilliard’s partner in Florida Air, an airline with high visibility at the Venice airport,  paid for the passenger planes  the two used in their “airline” with loot from what the Securities & Exchange Commission later called “the biggest fraud by an investment manager in U.S. history.

  • When a DC9 registered to a company which used as its address a hanger at Huffman Aviation was caught in Campeche, Mexico carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine, Mexican authorities called it the biggest drug seizure in an airplane in Yucatan history."

  • Participants in that escapade included Adnan Khashoggi. Hilliard sent a Lear jet torumcaylear support Khashoggi's plan to gain control of Rum Cay, a remote island in the Bahamas with a recently-lengthened 5000 foot runway, as well as  a Khashoggi lieutenant from Saudi Arabia named Ramy el-Batrawi, both of whom were indicted three years ago in an international stock swindle known as  Stockwalk,  which Federal Bankruptcy Court Judge Victor B. Kenton said was responsible for the largest failure of a U.S. brokerage in at least 30 years.”

Lady in Red

The first fact immediately and painfully obvious about accused Ponzi fraudster Art Nadel is that he’s clearly nobody’s idea of a financial “lone gunman.”   

Nadel is a meek-looking Woody Allen look-alike who is overshadowed in local Sarasota society by his tall former model wife Peg.   

In a pricey status-conscious city redolent with with the sweaty scent of social climbing 'yachtsmen' boasting waterfront mansions, Nadel lived in a $300,000 tract house,  and drove around town in a Subaru. 

Two other factors about Nadel may have some bearing on his case.  

When Art and Peg Nadel first surfaced as financial gurus in 1998 for a black-box stock-picking “computer-based investment and trading system” called MicroStar Research, wife Peg was strongly front and center in interviews.

Yet another un unexamined history

A Sarasota Herald-Tribune company profile on Nov 18, 1997 headlined “INVESTORS STOCK UP ON DATA AT SARASOTA'S INSIDE SCOOP” quoted Peg Nadel:

"We feel we are really filling a void,'' (Peg) Quisenberry said, ''for people who just want to become more informed about the financial part of their lives.''

And a company Peg Nadel incorporated a decade earlier, well before meeting Piano & Ponzi Man Art,   has a name which rings  similar to Peg & Art's later joint ventures:

As Marguerite Quisenberry,  Peg incorporated a Florida company called BUSINESS AND COMPUTER STRATEGIES, INC.  Her fellow director in that venture was then-husband Clement Blake Quisenberry.

In mid-December of last year, just a few weeks before Art Nadel went on the lam in mid-January, Peg Nadel’s former husband, Clement Blake Quisenberry, filed for bankruptcy in Mulberry Florida.

We have no knowledge of any relationship Quisenberry may have had with his former wife and her current husband Nadel, but it is at the very least an interesting coincidence.

License to steal at the Venice Airport

tbrsWhy disbarred New York lawyer Art Nadel, a man recently engaged playing show tunes in local lounges, found it so imperative that he used some of the earliest proceeds from the Ponzi scheme to buy both Huffman Aviation and a second aviation company in Georgia, is one of the enduring mysteries of the case.

Located at a tiny and out-of-the-way airport in a sleepy retirement community with the second oldest population in the entire United States,  Huffman Aviation—save for its remarkable recent history of criminal activity—is an otherwise-insignificant aviation business, grossing just several million dollars annually.

Although the flight school was at the center of a firestorm of publicity after the 9/11 attack, no hint of the continuing criminal enterprise underway there made it into any mainstream media.

However dozens of stories published in this space have catalogued the variety of illegal activities which authorities and their aviation peers accuse Rudi Dekkers and Wally Hilliard of engaging in at the Venice and Naples Airports, both before and after the 9/11 attack.

After the first shock of the 9/11 attack faded, a certain officially-encouraged amnesia struggled—perhaps understandably—to take hold at the Venice Airport.   

Huffman Aviation was re-named the Venice Jet Center. The facility received a complete face-lift and a new façade, clearly designed to obscure its identity as the American home of Mohamed Atta.

But all to naught.  It was, to quote our current president, “like putting lipstick on a pig.”

Happy Secretary's Day!

11boehlkeWally Hilliard was a grateful beneficiary of a huge Ponzi scheme run out of Portland Oregon which looted an estimated $300 million dollars, according to the Portland Oregonian. The money was looted—in a highly-organized and systematic fashion—from the pension funds of mostly-Mob-led unions.

Hardest hit ($60 million) by the pension looting were secretaries and laborers from the Laborers Union, called the biggest Mob-run union in America. 

Analysts said that to receive the same retirement benefits they would have before their pension fund was looted, the unfortunate secretaries would have to spend an extra decade working.

BOEHLKE3A Gig-Harbor WA man named Richard Boehlke was part of the pension fraud.

Boehlke shoveled trunk-loads of cash—more than $12 million—into the back of whichever of his fleet of luxury cars he happened to be driving that day, and used the cash from the Ponzi scheme to purchase a half-dozen British-made Jetstream regional jets for a new “airline” he was starting up with his good pal Wallace J Hilliard.

There. He said the "M" word.

"Boehlke would do anything for money, he was so desperate," an aviation executive who had witnessed Boehlke's descent told us. "I’m surprised he hasn’t skipped the country by now, what with all the trouble he’s gotten himself into farting around with those Mafia boys down in Portland."

Alvin of Arabia

alvinAnother grateful beneficiary of the Portland Ponzi scheme money which disappeared from the retirement pension funds of laborer's and secretary's was a Miami Florida man whose complex web of international connections  is legendary. 

Alvin Malnik was first called "Meyer Lansky’s heir" in Readers' Digest, of all places, back in 1983. But it's not Malnick’s gangster ties that make your jaw drop: its his connection with the Saudi Royal Family.

Jewish lawyer and alleged 'gangster' Malnick’s son married the daughter of a leading Prince of Saudi Arabia's founding family.

"The Saudi Prince not only blessed the marriage, but regularly works with the US organized crime associates," states one report on the connection. "The Saudi King would frequently send his private 747 to Florida to pick up Malnik and his associates, so they could conduct business on the plane away from prying eyes."

Mr. Malnik, understandably, begs to differ.

“Contrary to popular belief, I (Al Malnik) never worked for Meyer Lanksy.  I knew him, and he was a good friend who I spent a lot of time with, but I never represented him in legal matters. To me, Meyer was quite the grandfather type. If you knew him and talked to him, you could never imagine that any of the stories you heard about him had any veracity. You could never imagine that he was responsible for doing the things people said he did. He was not a person to give in to rage.”

"Phantom airline" had real planes, pilots

NEWAM1023db9edc1c9fe1bAlthough it flew virtually no scheduled flights, the suspiciously short-lived Florida Air thus was able to have a fleet of 19-passenger regional planes as well as a half-dozen pilots on stand-by at the Venice Airport, during the  same time Mohamed Atta was supposedly taking flight lessons there.

The airline lost $800,000 in two months,” said Stuart Burchill, Hilliard’s former accountant. “All together, the airline ended up costing Wally almost $8 million.”

Florida Air itself became another scam, run concurrently with the pension looting in Oregon, stealing money from the airline’s investors, who are currently suing Hilliard for $100 million. 

Hilliard was a “health insurance” executive from Green Bay, Wisconsin who “retired” to Florida, where he soon bought—not the usual set of golf clubs and matching sans-a-belt slacks and golf sweater combos in canary yellow & lime green—but two dozen luxury jets, and flight schools in Venice and Naples, FL.

Both of Hilliard’s flight schools (he also owned one in Naples, FL)  enrolled an unknown but substantial number of Arab men who later were suspected of being terrorists.

"La plus ca change."

ericA Portland ABC News Reporter Eric Mason, who interviewed Boehlke, said, “The financing that had gone between Mr. Boehlke and Florida Air, which was a sister operation to the flight training center which trained Mohamed Atta, was murky.”

Murky’ is not a word you want to see applied to the business affairs of the people who were doing business with Mohamed Atta.

Curiously,  the same word was used to describe SkyWay Aircraft by Federal Judge Paul M. Glenn.  While presiding over SkyWay’s bankruptcy proceedings, Judge Glen called the case "murky."

"I have a great deal of concern about this case," Judge Glenn said. "There's a great deal we don't know

Since then, very little appears to have changed.

While it may be small consolation to incarcerated (and reportedly forlorn) Art Nadel as he awaits trial, owning Huffman Aviation might be a lot like being head of the Teamsters Union:

“Going away for a while” may just be part of the job.

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. September 10, 2015

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  2. September 10, 2015

    […] Huffman Aviation Was ‘Continuing Criminal Enterprise’ […]