Why did Obama Appoint Bush holdover Michele Leonhart to head the DEA?
In a much-criticized move, Acting DEA administrator Michele Leonhart spent more than $123,000 to charter a private jet, instead of one of the DEA’s own 106 planes, to fly to Colombia two years ago.
The level of disapproval would have been even higher if it had been known that the DEA chartered the jet from a contractor with a major investment in a shell company in Florida that owned a DC9 caught carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine in Mexico.
“Just as the nation was reeling from the worst economic crisis in decades, with the national debt climbing toward $10 trillion, Leonhart chose an expensive outside jet charter company instead of one of the DEA’s own 106 planes for her trip to Bogotá, Colombia last fall,” reported Marisa Taylor of McClatchy Newspapers.
In a Feb 16, 2009 story headlined “DEA official's private charter cost $123,000,” Taylor reported that the DEA chartered the jet for Leonhart's trip from L-3 Communications, which bills itself as the nation's sixth largest defense contractor, and which made more than $32 million from the DEA in 2008 for transportation services, while the company's largest subsidiary, "Titan Group of L-3 Communications," had a $70,000 investment in a shell company in Miami with no employees, no earnings and no prospects, but which somehow wound up as the true and legal owner of a DC9 carrying a cargo of 5.5 tons of cocaine.
Some might suggest that had been the purpose of the investment all along.
An organization some say doesn't exist
The DC9 figured prominently in the indictment in Manhattan last week of Syrian-born Walid Makled-Garcia, 43, a former crony of Venezuela President Hugo Chavez.
Calling him “one of the world’s most significant narcotics kingpins,” Michele Leonhart and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara placed responsibility for the now-infamous DC9 drug plane squarely on the shoulders of Makled, who was recently arrested in Colombia.
In the press release announcing the indictment, there is no mention of the American-registered DC9's very American owners.
Leonhart, whose nomination to be the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration was expected to be confirmed Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, was not expected to be asked to explain the discrepancy.
Makled's fate became a political football this week as well, as the U.S. and Venezuela fought over which country's request for Makled's extradition should be granted by Colombia.
The story featured high drama, political intrigue, and the by-now familiar lack of candor which is a defining characteristic of the DEA and its interminable "War on Drugs."
The amazing but-true fact is that the DEA is paying millions for jet charters to a crooked defense contractor (more about that in a moment) with connections to both Chavez Cocaine Capo Walid Makled, and a camera and publicity-shy criminal organization which the DEA denies even exists.
The American Drug Lords.
"Proper arrangements should be made before you land."
The affadavit filed in Federal Court in Manhattan with the indictment accuses Makled of directing the operation from Simon Bolivar International Airport in Venezuela.
The DC9 was forced to land by mechanical problems at an airport in Campeche, Mexico, where proper “arrangements” had not already been made.
The plane was surrounded by Mexican soldiers, and soon thereafter, things went awry.
“On or about April 11, 2006, "co-conspirators not named as defendants herein” possessed 5.5 tons of cocaine in Mexico.
“On or about April 11, 2006, Makled coordinated the transportation to Mexico” of said 5.5 tons of cocaine, states the indictment.
It was clear from remarks by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Acting DEA administrator Michele Leonhart that the “co-conspirators not named as defendants herein” would not turn out to be associated with any rogue U.S. Defense Contractor, or with the ex-CIA or ex-NSA personnel who had manned SkyWay Aircraft in St. Petersburg.
Both were at pains to emphasize that Walid Makled will not have received his just desserts until he has been extradited to U.S. to face the music.
A big shout out to our friends in Plan Colombia-Land!
"Even among global narcotics traffickers, Makled-Garcia is a king among kingpins, who allegedly coordinated a vast international narcotics trafficking organization,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
“These charges emphasize our commitment to pursue those who flood the United States with poison for their own financial gain. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners in Colombia and elsewhere to bring Makled-Garcia to justice in the U.S.”
"Due to the outstanding work with our partners in Colombia and elsewhere, Makled-Garcia is behind bars and awaiting extradition to the United States for the crimes in this indictment,” said Leonhart.
"He is a foreign drug kingpin with a long history of drug trafficking, and he has built a vast global drug trafficking empire on illicit proceeds. These charges emphasize our commitment to pursue those who flood the United States with poison for their own financial gain.”
In case Colombia’s President can’t take a hint, she said it again. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners in Colombia and elsewhere to bring Makled-Garcia to justice in the U.S.”
Walid Makled seconded the sentiment. He has insisted upon extradition to the United States, where he said he will reveal "all he knows" about alleged drug activity by officials in the Chavez government.
"With what I have, with what I have, I have enough for them (the United States) to intervene in Venezuela… immediately" Makled said.
The "Amen Corner" begins weighing in
It was The Extradition Super Bowl. The stakes were high. The U.S. was competing with Venezuela in a contest to see who would get Makled.
The arguments made by Acting DEA administrator Leonhart and U.S. Attorney Bharara were echoed by a veritable “Who’s Who in the Amen Corner” of the American foreign policy establishment.
"One of the world's top drug kingpins may soon be telling U.S. prosecutors everything he knows about Venezuelan officials who have abetted his cocaine smuggling operations," wrote Roger Noriega of The American Enterprise Institute.
“Slowly but surely, Chávez is being unmasked as a deadly kingpin of a criminal.”
“Makled implicated high-level officials, from both civilian and military branches of the government of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez as being complicit in the drug trade,” wrote Joel Hirst of Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
Hirst apparently thinks no one remembers the overheated rhetoric of the drug war being used dozens of times before, always promising we can "turn the corner" in the drug war, if only…
“Extradition of Makled to Venezuela would be going too far. The information he possesses would serve to expose and end some of the most flagrant drug trafficking in the region.”
However, Colombian President Juan Santos yesterday rained all over their foreign policy parade. Spurning a U.S. request to extradite the alleged cocaine kingpin, he said that Walid Makled will be sent back to face charges in his home country of Venezuela."
Makled's fate would thus seem sealed.
The fate of another "player" in the drama, much closer to home, has not yet been decided.
"Corruption that would make a Roman Senator blush"
Why did Titan, a multi-billion dollar defense contractor in San Diego, loan money to a company with no employees 3000 miles away being incorporated by Michael Farkas, a stockbroker in Miami whose checkered past includes being suspended by the SEC?
Whatever the reason, it wasn't by accident.
Just before Skyway went bankrupt four years later, the company's stock price got a boost from a fawning press release issued by Titan announcing its agreement to purchase from SkyWay a half-billion dollars-worth of a product which didn’t exist, from a company about to go bankrupt.
"We are excited about the possibilities Sky Way Aircraft System technology offers," said Titan's David Stinson.”
It was a clear case of corporate fraud, letting insiders cash out. Skyway investors, excited by Titan’s lie about the company’s non-existent prospects, were soon left holding the bag, swindled out of $42 million.
Why did a billion dollar defense contractor with sensitive government defense and intelligence contracts loan money, its name and prestige to a soon-to-be-bankrupt firm whose owners were stripping it of everything not nailed down?
Titan officials did not return phone calls seeking comment. But the trail of clues left behind spoke for them.
"Flying the Ollie North Memorial Charter "
Titan’s David Stinson, had previously been the Executive Vice President of Intergraph in Annapolis Maryland, which cut a deal that first opened the Defense Dept’s money spigot for Brent Wilkes, the convicted Republican fraudster in San Diego whose close ties with fellow convicted Republican fraudster, former San Diego Congressman Randy “Duke Cunningham, led to his downfall.
Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush provided another Republican link to the SkyWay fraud.
As SkyWay lurched towards bankruptcy, another organization issued a glowing press release touting the company’s bright future, then-Governor Bush’s Florida Dept. of Transportation announced SkyWay had been chosen as Florida’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 told us airports in Florida all got the word that the State of Florida would reimburse them one hundred percent for airport upgrades performed by SkyWay that had anything to do with Homeland Security."
Perhaps the biggest clue was divulged in 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."
In 2001, SkyWay founder Michael Farkas even incorporated a company called "Shell Corporation."
Long-time FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover denied for decades the existence of the Mob, while at same time he was vacationing every year with his boyfriend Clyde at a Mob resort in La Jolla, CA.
While the FBI's headquarters in Washington, D.C. still bears his name, he is a discredit to the Bureau, as well as the butt of jokes.
The CIA and DEA should take note. The chances of that happening, however, are remote as those of either organization ever catching Osama bin Laden.