The criminal syndicate responsible for massive drug moves using two planes from St. Petersburg, Florida—a DC9 caught carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine and a Gulfstream II busted eighteen months later with four tons—include among its number at least two well-known Americans whose names have not previously surfaced.
One is a man present at the inception of a political scandal which swirled for several decades around what was, at least until recently, the world’s most infamous bank: BCCI, the Bank of Crooks & Criminals International.
It took the curiosity of a local cop in upstate New York, who stumbled onto and then busted a summit meeting of the American Mob in Apalachin in November of 1957 to finally force FBI head J. Edgar Hoover to stop mincing (figuratively) around, and admit the existence of organized crime in America.
But even in today’s supposedly more enlightened times, for America’s DEA to admit to being “in denial” over the existence of the American Drug Lords will probably take a nationally-televised intervention in prime time, hosted by Dr Phil.
The idea that Bert Lance, or former top U.S. military officials Major General Richard Secord and Air Force Brigadier General Heinie Aderholt were associates of a criminal syndicate using American planes to haul tons of cocaine up from South America while simultaneously involved in massive financial fraud may not be as shocking as it once was.
What does seem improbable, however, is whether, even if true, it would become breaking news. When was the last time anyone heard of an American General being arrested for anything?
German artist Jenny Holzer said it best: “Abuse of Power Comes as No Surprise."
Coast Guard didn't see nuthin.'
An official-looking Seal beside the door, with an image of a U.S. Federal Eagle in the center, read: SKYWAY AIRCRAFT. PROTECTION OF AMERICA'S SKIES."
It was so close to being identical to the seal of Homeland Security that even eagle-eyed planespotters around the country were fooled. And there was nary a peep from the U.S. Coast Guard (a DHW Agency), whose major Caribbean Basin Interdiction Facility was located right next door.
"We never could figure out how they could get away with that," one SkyWay employee told us. "They had the same seal on the fleet of Hummers, and local cops in Tampa pulled them over and made them take it off. But not the Coast Guard. Never."
Yet the DC9 sat on the tarmac at Clearwater-St. Petersburg International Airport less than one hundred yards from the U.S. Coast Guard’s major Caribbean air station, with no questions asked or interference from the Coast Guard.
The second plane, the Gulfstream II (N987SA) had no need to impersonate a U.S. Government plane, because it was one, or had been one. It belonged to the CIA during most of the 1990's, and flew extraordinary renditions between 2003 and 2006.
Several top executives of SkyWay's Aircraft, which owned the DC9, had links with American intelligence. The company’s President, James Kent, was a former member of U.S. military intelligence, as well as the NSA.
And SkyWay's Chairman Glenn Kovar often boasted of his long-standing ties to the CIA, as well as of having dinner at the White House with President George W. Bush.
"Ms. Leonhart…Dr. Phil would like to have you on his show"
The DEA would like to pretend that drug cartel jefes were leafing through Trade-A-Plane (the aircraft industry’s version of the Penny Saver) picking out planes.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
When even former Mexican President Vicente Fox starts to mock you, well, from a Drug War perspective, at least, the end is clearly near.
A certain arrogance is duly noted
The verifiable and inescapable fact is that cartel bosses (and not just any bosses, either, but more on that later) bought their American-registered fleet from owners who had pre-existing criminal ties to each other.
These ties are a matter of public record. They are visible in Federal court documents, records of incorporation, and SEC filings available online to anyone curious enough to look.
In spookdom a mistake in the area of tradecraft can cost dearly.
The skills or "tradecraft" necessary to conduct clandestine activities includes the ability to successfully avoid being exposed on page one of the local newspaper.
If you're a civilian and get caught doing what spooks do as a matter of course, life without the possibility of parole can quickly loom large. So you want to avoid what's called sloppy tradecraft.
What these guys did was precisely that.
A momentary lapse of reason
Stephen Adams, Michael Farkas, and Adnan Khashoggi, the owners of the planes that became famous after being caught in Mexico running drugs, were partners, at the same time the planes were flying, in a huge $300 million financial fraud called STOCKWALK.
That fact had even been noted by a business reporter from the St. Paul Pioneer who had been avidly following the collapse of the Twin Cities biggest brokerage.
"SEC filings show ties among Imperial, Holiday and Genesis," reported Tim Huber on April 11 2002.
Stephen Adams, the secretive Midwestern media baron and Republican fund-raiser that owned the Gulfstream in 1999 and 2000 while personally buying over $1 million in billboard advertising in support of George W Bush's 2000 Presidential campaign, owned Holiday RV Superstores, Inc., one of the three companies whose stock was used in the huge stock fraud.
Michael Farkas, who founded SkyWay, controlled a second company, Imperial Credit Industries.
And “Saudi billionaire,” “arms merchant” and “CIA fixer” Adnan Khashoggi controlled the third corporation used in the scheme, Genesis Intermedia, as well as being the acknowledged mastermind behind the scheme.
Some tips on avoiding those pesky red flags
"For example, (Khashoggi lieutenant Ramy) El-Batrawi owns a private company called Genesis Diversified Investments, which is an investor in a company called Aviation Group, that in 2001 merged with a British Columbia company called Travelbyus," Huber reported.
"And Lee Sanders, the chairman of Travelbyus, is a director of Holiday RV. The former chief executive of Holiday RV, and its largest shareholder, is also among the largest shareholders of Imperial."
Truth be told, it's worse than that. A lot worse.
When a prosecuting attorney describes "collusive behavior in the furtherance of a continuing criminal conspiracy," this is what he or she means.
If you're trying to maintain the fiction that dozens of American luxury jets were sold to Mexican bad guys by American owners completely unrelated to each other except by virtue of a shared attitude of blissful innocence when asked about aiding and abetting major drug traffickers… then you will most certainly want to avoid been seen around town colluding openly in a slick financial fraud that is about to be the cause of the biggest brokerage collapse since the Great Depression.
Also, if the lead company in your big financial fraud, Genesis Intermedia, has been incorporated by a Baton Rouge Louisiana attorney who was the long-time consigliore of CIA pilot Barry Seal's organization, and Seal has been called by government prosecutors "the biggest drug smuggler in American history," that can be something of a big red flag all by its own-self.
Perhaps consider incorporating offshore somewhere. Panama is nice.
Otherwise people being figuring out that using money laundered almost exclusively by Wachovia Bank, Mexican and South American drug cartels are buying planes from their American counterparts in the U.S… from an interlocking, politically-connected, and distinctively American criminal enterprise, one no less real for having no identifiable logo, and no recognizable trading symbol on the New York Stock Exchange.
Or even a name.
Tortured and beheaded by… The Shuffleboard Cartel?
Sleepy St. Petersburg Florida, (like Venice, a retirement community) is better known for being the home of the World Shuffleboard Museum & Hall of Fame than as the incongruous setting for an important logistical node of a global drug cartel.
Since naming rights seemed up for grabs, let's dub them “The Shuffleboard Cartel.”
But while St. Peterburg is a well-nigh perfect place to witness the American Drug Lords in action, we suggest beginning a little bit (30 miles) further south…
Most people are dimly aware that Sarasota is the home of that gargoyle of the 2000 Presidential election, Katherine Harris. But she's far from the city's only claim on infamy.
No less an authority than London’s Financial Times recently identified the city as being "Ground zero in the current Great Recession."
“Like the proverbial butterfly, the centre of the US housing bust that sent shockwaves through global markets,” wrote FT reporter Ethan Callan.
City to homeless: Standing room only
“It is tempting to point the finger at high-risk adjustable loans backed by complex new credit securities, he reported. “But the real reason is simple old-fashioned greed.”
A Google search on the word "Sarasota" illustrates that "simple old-fashioned greed" and Sarasota go together like cookies and milk.
Residents of high-rise condominiums overlooking a city park recently outdid themselves however, when they began complaining about the "unsightliness" of homeless people sitting on park benches.
So the city took the benches out.
Sarasota now has one of America's first "standing room only" city parks. Ann Rand must be proud!
Our first stop on a tour of the discovery, and the denial of the discovery, of The American DrugLords must perforce begin there.
Wikileaks wants to know: Does he wear black socks to the beach?
It is February 18, a perfect cloudless day in Sarasota Florida; a light breeze blows in off the Gulf at about 6 knots, waves are one to three feet high with a light chop, and at just about the time that morning FBI Agents take Jonathon Randall Curshen into custody, the temperature hits 70 degrees.
Curshen, an American con man from Sarasota Florida (natch!) controlled a company in Costa Rica called Red Sea Management, which had generously provided, in return for 28,000,000 shares of common stock in SkyWay that was worth just slightly more than the cost of the ink on the certificates, a 1966 McDonald Douglas DC9 aircraft that shortly thereafter was carrying a cargo of 5.6 tons of cocaine, worth several hundred million dollars.
SkyWay put out a press release announcing the deal: "The DuPont Investment Fund 57289, Inc. Satisfies $7 Million Funding Agreement with SkyWay Communications Holding Corp."
“They wrote it up in a press release, touting how they’d just received a big investment from the DuPont Foundation," a former SkyWay executive explained. "It turned out to be bogus. It was just some guy (Curshen) at a desk in Costa Rica.”
Can they convict him for being a fuddy-duddy?
Announcing Curshen’s arrest under that clear blue late morning sky in Sarasota, the FBI's press release from Washington DC later that day had Federal prosecutors graciously thanked everyone involved in the investigation.
They thanked the Washington Field Office of the FBI, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS). They thanked the Fraud Section of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami, and the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs. They thanked the SEC, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and they even thanked authorities in Costa Rica.
Who didn’t they thank? The DEA. There was no mention in Curshen’s indictment of the conspiracy to traffic massive loads of cocaine into the U.S.
Offhand we can think of two reasons why the DEA was not involved in the case, both of which boil down to the DEA's reluctance to call attention to the "home team" in America's drug trafficking Home Run Derby.
The press conference also neglected to mention that Curshen was an operative in an organized crime ring being fronted by a former self-described "Iran Contra operative" who was recently sentenced to prison.
That old queasy feeling
Marc Harris was a former Congressional aide to long-time Republican Senator Jesse Helms and a self-described Iran Contra insider who claimed to have learned the 'art' of money laundering while working for Oliver North and Richard Secord's operation.
According to a newspaper in Panama, where he operated while on the lam, Harris' biggest clients had been prominent Republican politicians.
What exactly Harris was doing for those big Republican clients was left to the readers' imagination. We shudder to think.
On the one hand, these guys are pretty smart. On the other, their elaborate frauds have no more flair than your average liquor store heist, because most of what they do is paint-by-numbers.
Announcing that the DuPont family had just made a big investment in SkyWay, for example, had pumped the company's stock for a few days while insiders sold their shares.
Twenty years earlier, the exact same tactic was used! And by the exact same drug trafficking organization!
Trinity Energy, a money laundering vehicle set up by legendary drug smuggler Barry Seal's attorney, was sold, after Seal's assassination in 1986, to "Miami Jack" Birnholz, another member of the same organization.
Birnholz announced investments by the Dupont's, in this case "Sloan DuPont," in one of his shell companies too. Sloan DuPont turned out to be a con man named James Rice.
The seizure in the Yucatan of SkyWay's DC9 has exposed a global narcotics cartel that goes all the way back to the days of Iran Contra.
It might just be the most powerful political force on the planet.