The death in prison of Art Nadel last week left numerous questions about the scandal that may never be answered.
Authorities will now be rolling up the sidewalks on the Art Nadel scandal, continuing the trend of American scandals going unexplained and largely unexplored stretching back to Iran Contra.
Art Nadel was a disbarred NY attorney with a recent work history consisting of playing gigs in second rate piano bars. Yet apparently the FBI's best "thinking" is that Nadel was a lounge act who stole $166 million… all by himself.
Was Art Nadel the mastermind of a huge financial fraud, or just a hapless front man? A Ponzi all star? Or a Ponzi patsy? We may never know.
Two matters cry out for more attention. The first involves the names of the firms which made Nadel’s fraud possible: Wachovia Bank, whose assistance enabled Nadel’s scheme, and Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street firm which cleared his trades.
Fishing in muddy Wall Street waters
Art Nadel's use of Goldman and Wachovia in tandem seems too prescient for a man of his meager talents. So, how did this arrangement came about?
“Nadel engaged in at least a dozen regular financial transactions that were serious criminal violations,” a recent lawsuit by the Federal receiver in the case alleges. About them all, Wachovia remained "inexplicably unconcerned."
The suit states baldly, “For Wachovia's failure, there is no legitimate explanation."
And the attorney for the Federal receiver who filed the lawsuit, Terry Smiljanich, told me flatly, “Wachovia has a history of assisting and profiting from the commission of fraud by the bank’s account holders.”
Was Art Nadel really a Lone Nut Ponzi All Star?
The second thing about the Nadel scandal which seems more than odd concerns the omission in news stories of his death in prison of the fact that—while his Ponzi scheme was in full flight—Nadel bought the notorious Huffman Aviation at the Venice Airport, the place where both terrorists who flew planes into the World Trade Center learned to fly.
Apparently the mainstream media did not find it significant that Nadel used a goodly portion of his ill-gotten gains to buy a flight school whose name will forever live in ignominy.
In fact, a Google search for “Art Nadel” and Huffman Aviation” turns up 600 results, all of which link to stories published first on this website.
While defrauding $166 million from investors, Nadel was establishing a sizeable aviation presence, buying and FBO’s at airports in Georgia, North Carolina and in Venice. To what end? For what purpose?
We’ll likely never know. No one is even asking. Why? Perhaps because Art Nadel wasn't even the first recent owner of Huffman Aviation to be involved in a Ponzi scheme.
That honor belonged to previous owner Wallace J. Hilliard, who owned Huffman Aviation while Mohamed Atta took flying lessons there. Hilliard was involved in two separate Ponzi schemes…
Both of them were bigger than Nadel's. This stretches the boundaries of coincidence way beyond any reasonable definition of the word.
Hilliard was a grateful beneficiary of a massive $300 million financial fraud involving Richard Boehlke, Hilliard’s partner in a soon-to-be-bankrupt airline called Florida Air.
According to the Portland Oregonian, the scheme scammed $300 million dollars from the pension funds of mostly-Mob run unions.
Boehlke shoveled trunk-loads of cash—more than $12 million—into the back of his Hummer. His Ponzi money paid for the half-dozen jets used by the airline.
Hilliard was an “health insurance” executive from Green Bay, Wisconsin who “retired” to Florida. Most retirees in Florida buy a set of golf clubs and matching sans-a-belt slacks and sweater combos in canary yellow or lime green.
Hilliard, on the other hand, bought two dozen luxury jets as well as flight schools in Venice and Naples, FL. that enrolled unknown but statistically-significant numbers of Arab men, many of whom are now suspected of being terrorists.
What prompted Hilliard to establish such a serious aviation presence in Florida? Good question. Someone should ask him. Under oath.
A continuing criminal conspiracy
Hilliard was also doing business with notorious Arab arms merchant Adnan Khashoggi (who was just then also involved in a $200 million fraud, called Stockwalk, which led to the biggest collapse of a brokerage since the Depression.)
A Lear jet owned by Hilliard flew regularly for Khashoggi to an off-the-beaten-path island in the Bahamas called Rum Cay.
The island once served as a refuge for pirates looting ships from the Spanish Main. It became a center of gun-running during the American Civil War, then was a port used for boot-legging alcohol into the US during Prohibition
The island’s current attraction is a new 5000 foot runway. It can now be used by mid-sided business jets, offering a strategic refueling location between Colombia and Florida. DEA officials sometimes—when its convenient—say as much as two-thirds of all cocaine entering the US transits the Bahamas.
And, of course, just three weeks after Mohamed Atta arrived to attend Huffman Aviation, Hilliard’s Lear jet was busted carrying 43 lbs of heroin. The Orlando Sentinel called it “the largest heroin bust in Central Florida history.”
The DEA confiscated his Lear jet and was instrumental in a Federal Court ruling denying Hilliard his plane back, shredding his pretense to being an “innocent owner.”
"Guido, meet Mohamed. Mohamed, Guido."
It's true, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. And it certainly doesn't convey the magnitude of the criminal turpitude which somehow found a home at the tiny Venice Airport.
Two recent owners of the aviation business at the Venice Airport that taught Mohamed Atta to fly were involved in crimes traditionally associated with organized crime.
Ponzi schemes are—and have always been—the hallmark of the Mafia. What were Art Nadel’s Mob ties? That he had them is already known. He was a lawyer in New York disbarred for stealing client monies to pay back a loan shark.
So if terrorist ringleader Mohamed Atta met guys with names like “Fat Pete” or “Joey Cakes” while learning to fly at Huffman Aviation, it would come as no great surprise.
A mountain of evidence points to the conclusion that the men who owned the flight school—both then and now—have more than a passing acquaintance with organized crime.
Once Nadel bought Huffman Aviation, he ordered the company’s familiar blue-awning façade obliterated, rebranding terror flight Huffman Aviation as the Venice Jet Center.
The move closely replicates the obliteration of a prominent landmark in the Kennedy Assassination: the tearing down of the building in New Orleans at 544 Camp that housed Guy Banister, David Ferrie, and Lee Harvey Oswald, from which many believe the conspiracy to assassinate John Kennedy was orchestrated.
Today it is a Federal office building. A calculated effort to make the truth disappear? Or just a coincidence?
The Clean-up crew cleans up
The last time Art Nadel appeared in public—without handcuffs—the dress code specified "circus glamorous.”
The aging social set in Sarasota Florida turned out under the Big Top on January 9, 2009, to see and be seen at a circus-style gala & fund-raiser wistfully entitled “An Evening of Ageless Delight.”
Nadel and his wife, the evening’s event chair, were known for their charity. Peg Nadel, nee Quisenberry, had been a social fixture in Sarasota for over a decade.
Aerialists, contortionists and circus clowns, met arriving grandees as they stepped out of their cars, wafting them through a tunnel-like portal opening into what the Sarasota Herald Tribune called a “magical and grand” ringside-cum-dining-room.
It wouldn't last.
Four days later Nadel went on the lam, leaving behind a green Subaru parked at Sarasota International Airport, and a curious suicide note which stated that if people wanted him dead, he’d be happy to oblige.
Rumors spread that Nadel was already dead. He wasn't…
Instead he was flying above the clouds on a sleek luxury 1996 Learjet 31-A worth $2.3 million, which cruises comfortably at 500 miles an hour at an altitude of 51,000 feet.
Nadel flew from Sarasota to San Antonio to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and ended up in Slidell La. just outside New Orleans, legendary home of Carlos Marcello's hunting lodge, a part of JFK assassination lore.
Questions which were never answered include: Why did he end his journey there? Who did he meet with? And just who did Nadel suspect wanted him dead? Jilted investors?
Perhaps some may have harbored homicidal impulses towards him. But not, certainly, until after they'd discovered what he’d done with their money.
What do Ponzi schemers, drug traffickers, terrorist hijackers & private equity capital firms investing money from Arab sovereign wealth funds have in common? As the buzz about Facebook’s upcoming IPO intensifies, it may be important to note that criminals have social networks too.
The basis for organized crime— interlocking social networks, or what used to be called “relationships”—is always the same, across time, space, and culture.
“He’s connected,” accompanied with a shrug, seems to be a universal statement of the way things are.
Would they were different.