The “Deep History” of the Venice Municipal Airport

venice101Eight years after terrorist ringleader Mohamed Atta practiced ‘touch & go’s’ off the runway at the Venice Municipal Airport, the men he did business with there have not  been called to account for running a continuing criminal enterprise at the same time their two flight schools, in Naples and Venice FL, were being used to teach a still-unknown number of suspected terrorists to fly. 

The continuing criminal enterprise at the Venice Airport helmed by Rudi Dekkers and Wallace J. Hilliard has been an open secret, according to numerous Southwest Florida aviation executives.

Should they ever be exposed to full public view, they would utterly discredit the official story being told about why the terrorist pilots were in Venice Florida, and what they were doing while they were there.  

Few, however, think either man will ever be called to account.

“This (9/11) will never be solved,” stated Fort Lauderdale aviation executive and former fighter pilot Winsor Brown. “The government doesn't want to do it.”

“Here we are—JFK was shot in 1963—and everybody's still looking about who did what to whom.  Lets see… ’63… ’73… ’83…’93… 2003. So we're talking, gee, 45 years?  And we don’t know shit yet?”

Which brings up an impolite question: Does being based at the Venice Airport offer immunity from prosecution?

Stephen L. Ruth, Venice's very own Secret Agent

MDByrd7One place to look for answers would be the amazing progression of Stephen Ruth, the second person at the Venice Airport—General Byrd being the first— whose name is entwined in the story of the JFK assassination and its aftermath.

As we saw last week, in 1959 a defense contractor called Chance Vought, which several years later grew into the giant aerospace company LTV controlled by General D. H. (Harry) Byrd, began building, launching and testing Regulus II cruise missiles at the Venice Airport.

Byrd, of course, is a familiar name in the story of the Kennedy Assassination. He owned the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, from which Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired the shots which killed President John F. Kennedy.

While looking for evidence of Byrd’s involvement at the Venice Airport we unearthed, in the archives of the Mary Ferrell Foundation, in an FBI folder marked JFK VOLUME XV from the House Select Committee on Assassinations, an intriguing police report.

Stephen Ruth, a suspected CIA Agent, had flown to Cuba in 1969 on a mission to assassinate one of “four or five” of the men then still alive who had been part of the Kennedy assassination “hit team.”

The police report, from Sheriff Geoff Monge of Sarasota County, dated Dec 6 1978, was addressed to the FBI's Tampa office. The subject:

"Assassination of President John F. Kennedy." 

secret_agent_manIn the report, Monge states he has recently learned that "Stephen Ruth, arrested several years earlier on a burglary charge,  had been the passenger on an airplane that crashed in Cuban territory in…early 1970."

The day after Ruth was arrested, according to the memo, "Ruth contacted Corporal Lynn Taylor of the Sarasota Sheriff's office Venice Office. At that time Ruth was suspected of trafficking in narcotics… had spent some time in jail in Cuba… and on his release returned to Venice Florida."

Ruth told Corporal Taylor that his true mission in Cuba had been to “do away with an individual who was incarcerated in a Cuban prison, one of five persons involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.”

"Corporal Taylor asked Ruth if he had done what he was sent there to do.

Ruth replied that the job had been done. "According to Ruth, within five years he would have some nice cars and as much money as he needed."

Corporal Taylor advised that he had the feeling Ruth was inferring he had been sent there by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA.)"

We reported last week that there may be valid reasons to suspect Stephen Ruth was telling the truth.

Three million reasons, really

Douglas_C-54_SkymasterHere’s why:

Ten years after the intriguing police report, we found this:

"$10-million bail set for man in jail on drug charge” reported a Feb 3, 1988 headline  in the St. Petersburg Times.

“An Englewood man was being held in the Sarasota County Jail on $10-million bail Tuesday night on a drug-related charge, the Sarasota County Sheriff's Department said.

 Stephen L. Ruth, 38, was charged on Polk County warrants for keeping or using an aircraft for selling drugs and failure to produce a pilot's license.

The charges resulted from an investigation that U.S. Customs and the Polk County Sheriff's Department launched when Ruth was arrested after landing an airplane at the Lakeland Airport, the department said.

It looked like Stephen Ruth’s “CIA” luck had run out.  

A bit of a sticky wicket

sam1frontThat September, Ruth was sentenced to 60 years for altering an airplane's identification number during a drug-smuggling operation. 

Ruth had apparently been caught flying 400 pounds of marijuana from Belize to Florida. He certainly had a big enough plane (see pic of Ruth’s DC4 Globe master).

That this was not Ruth’s first conviction for drug smuggling made it even more of a sticky wicket.

Unaccountably, Ruth appeared to be taking it all highly personally:  

A little less than two years later, Mar 31, 1990, there is this St. Petersburg Times headline about Stephen Ruth: “Inmate accused of trying to hire killer

“An inmate already serving 60 years in a drug case was charged Friday with hiring an undercover agent to kill his former attorney and the law officer responsible for his arrest, the Polk County Sheriff's Department said.

“Steven L. Ruth offered the agent $80,000 to kill Tampa lawyer Dominic Baccarella and Frank Mercurio, a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) in Tampa, a sheriff's spokeswoman said.”

“He also agreed to pay the agent another $ 300,000 to design and execute a plan to break Ruth out of the Polk County Jail.”

When we realized that the lawyer Ruth was trying to have hit, Dominic Baccarella, had been Ruth’s own attorney, we got a little chill. 

 Desperado with a mean streak

22158977Stephen Ruth from Venice Florida was some kind of desperado.  Still, all he got for his troubles was another felony conviction in 1990 for threatening to kill 10th Judicial Circuit Court Judge J. Dale Durrance, FDLE Special Agent Frank Mercurio…and their families. 

Stephen Ruth apparently had money to burn, as well as something approaching a bad attitude. As well, he had connections to Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. 

FDLE investigators wrote to the Florida Attorney General, Bob Butterworth, that they feared Ruth would continue to try and use "the many assets he had acquired in his narcotics ventures to finance an escape or cause harm to other witnesses." 

That’s when high weirdness set in. This being a Florida story, you knew it was coming. 

An August 3, 1998 story in the Tampa Tribune had this headline: 

“Prosecutor fired after complaints” 

“Days after a drug dealer's attorneys complained to state officials, an assistant  attorney general was fired,” the story reported.

“In April 1997, Jeanne Clougher filed a legal motion in Sarasota County Circuit Court that she  hoped would help neutralize a drug smuggler who had threatened to kill public officials from his  prison cell.”

“Under the state's racketeering law, Clougher, an assistant attorney general in Tampa, was attempting to seize valuable real estate worth an estimated $3 million that the state said Stephen Ruth had purchased with drug  profits, which the Florida Department of Law Enforcement contended Ruth planned to use to finance contract murders on public officials.

Unforeseen consequences, unintended results

MIRRORSAn FDLE investigative report obtained by The Tampa Tribune says that Clougher was among those Ruth wanted killed. The FDLE took the threat so seriously Clougher was taught by the agency to use a gun.

“That's when the case took an unexpected turn,” the Tampa Trib reported.

And how. Ruth's lawyers called Clougher's superiors in Tallahassee and less than 48 hours later she was fired, the paper reported. Her superiors did not explain why.

Amazingly, Clougher was no rookie, but an eight-year veteran of the attorney general's office.

Still, a spokesman for Attorney General Bob Butterworth said "nobody" would  have any comment now on Clougher's firing. But it probably wouldn’t have mattered  anyway. The spokesman’s name, reported the Tampa Tribune, presumably with the straight-face the story’s seriousness demanded, was “Joe Bizzaro.” 

Jeanne Clougher was not only out of a job, she was scared. "I didn't have any protection anymore from Ruth," she told the Tribune.

"I hid in my house for the next two weeks with the alarm system on and the gun next to me every place I was. I expected a hit."

Ten years later, not much had changed. When we contacted her for comment on this story, she declined.

Except this… Instead of being locked away in cold storage for 60 years, for just the drug smuggling, plus, presumably, whatever penalty was deemed appropriate for trying to have officers of the court murdered in batches…Something happened....

The report ends on what can only be considered a chilling note, at least for anyone who believes in that old "equal justice under law" chestnut…

“Ruth remains in Florida State Prison, where he is serving a 30-year term.”

As you approach the speed of light, time speeds up… Apparently the same calculus applies to elite deviants smuggling drugs under color of law….

(Phone calls to Mr. Ruth's last known residence have not been returned. Even his Mom claims not to know where he is. We have the feeling though, that after reading about himself here tomorrow, he might just decide to return our calls for comment.)


Stay tuned.

Facebook Comments

Daniel Hopsicker

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