Donald Sterling’s New York "Slip & Fall"

 Beleaguered LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling  numbers among his associates at least three figures who were involved in a troubled “rogue” drug operation  run by Tampa ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) that consigned America’s reputation into the hands of people that other branches of the U.S. Government—even casino regulators in Nevada—wouldn’t trust not to cheat at penny-ante poker.


The operation has sporadically been under investigation for corruption for several years, and may well still be, by tight-lipped investigators from ICE’s OPR (Office of Professional Responsibility.) During its five year reign at St Petersburg-Clearwater Intl Airport, the group was successful, say observers, at bringing many more tons of cocaine into the U.S. than it managed to interdict.

Both Sterling’s pick for his “Humanitarian of the Year” Award in 2006, Ramy El Batrawi,  and owners Arik Kislin and William Achenbaum of trendy New York Hotel Gansevoort, where gal-pal V Stiviano was allegedly beaten up, supplied the effort with a mini-fleet of useable drug planes. This is no doubt just a statistical coincidence, but its nonetheless just a little creepy, too.

Conspiracy theorists’ dream team

arik-william-300x163Kislin and Achenbaum supplied the operation with a Gulfstream II (N987SA).  El Batrawi  turned over the second of the operation’s two DC-9’s (N12ONE.)

All three men have, at times, been in the news. Kislin and Achenbaum’s Gulfstream  gained a measure of infamy in September of 2007  when it crashed in Mexico’s Yucatan  while hauling back four tons of cocaine from Colombia tracked by Mexican military aircraft and helicopters. In the aftermath, it was learned that Kislin,  in particular, bears the burden of a colorful past.

While the crash was still news, reporters were told it had nothing to do with the two men, since it occurred fully three weeks after the men sold it on—at least ostensibly—to aircraft brokers in Fort Lauderdale, who in turn said they sold it on, to someone else, who is out of the country at present. They were lied to, a fact which came out in a gratifyingly official way some six years later.

Marana_Banner_1280aMany knew they were lying six years ago. How you can tell: An Agency like the CIA doesn’t buy and sell planes. They buy them, and then they move them around. Then park them out in Marana, Arizona for a while. When they’ve got something that absolutely positively has to get there overnight, they don’t pick up “Trade-a-Plane” magazine and run through the ‘aircraft for sale’ classifieds.  They just don’t.

The vehicle for the admission that earlier expressions about the plane’s ownership had been rendered inoperative was a DEA affidavit, which was inadvertently leaked into the public domain for less than a week before being reclassified, admitting what every conspiracy buff on the Internet already knew: the Gulfstream’s sale was a CIA sham “paper” transaction.

In fact, the plane’s entire chain of possession, its record of registration, is replete with the kind of Delaware corporations whose names you never see on the sides of trucks in the real world.  It’s routine procedure, to help the Agency disguise its fleet of planes from those who would learn its secrets, a category consisting of the public at large, represented these days by admirably pesky plane-spotters.

sadamsThe Gulfstream, before passing to the hoteliers, was “parked” (the preferable term) with a certain Stephen Adams.  Mr. Adams (you can look all this up) is a secretive Midwestern media baron with a sharp distaste for publicity. He is a proud  graduate of Yale, where he was, although he won’t confirm it, a member of Skull & Bones. More recently,  he was a “Bush Ranger” in the 2000 election, where he picked up a $1 million  tab for billboard advertising supporting the Bush Presidential campaign.

The man who couldn’t take a hint

In the coming weeks, remember this about Donald Sterling: he can’t say he wasn’t warned.  More than three weeks ago USA Today ran a prescient headline warning him by name: Go now, or scrutiny may humble Donald Sterling.”  

“Sterling’s racist views, personal attacks on Magic Johnson and delusional ramblings already have ruined what was left of his image and reputation,” reported Nancy Armour. “Now the scrutiny is turning to his business dealings, and that fallout has the potential to be far more costly.

“Reporters across the country have been combing through Sterling’s life and business since NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned the Clippers owner for life… What else might they find? And who else could be caught up in it?”

dsWhen a national media outlet addresses you personally in a headline, it is not an event to be taken lightly. Even less so when the topic under discussion is “Eventual Outcome Prediction for People Who Live in Glass Houses.”

Sterling himself must have have known that the gloves were coming off eventually, and his checkered past would become fair game for enterprising reporters. Today, calling attention to his more dubious business and personal associations is beginning to feel like something of a civic duty.

Reporters were combing. But I had a head start.  I was already aware of Donald Sterling’s strange ties to Ramy El Batrawi,  a “person of interest” in a decade-long journalistic investigation into the illicit drug trade in America.

Coincidence of the Year

N987SA-NN (8)After the plane crashed there were reports that a joint effort between the two men had supplied a drug plane (a Gulfstream II; N987SA) to a government operation in Tampa that was running what a top DEA official in Miami several years later characterized as a ‘rogue’ drug operation  in the Tampa office of ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement).

A New York Post account, Crash Jet Had Air of Mystery , caught the whiff of intrigue which surrounds the incident to this day. The plane had previously been detected flying extraordinary renditions to Guantanamo beginning in 2003, according to the European Union.  It was tacitly assumed someone from the CIA was using a spare desk inside the Tampa ICE office.

kislinArik Kislin owned the aircraft charter company, Air Ritter, that “loaned,” to the CIA for use in extraordinary renditions flights to Guantanamo, the Gulfstream II jet (tail number N987SA) owned by hotel partner, wealthy New York real estate tycoon William Achenbaum.

Back in the 90’s, he owned a company called Blond Management, which should be a modelling agency, but was, instead, purportedly a commodities trading firm.

For reasons best known only to other commodities traders, the firm found it necessary to bring over from Mother Russia a professional assassin from one of Moscow’s top gangs. Asked ‘what for,’  a company spokesman had no comment. Or, if you will, he “clammed up.”

Arik Kislin was also fingered in German court documents for being involved with top Russian Mob figures. According to a 2012 report in the New York Post, he is the nephew of a powerful Russian Mafia don named Semyon Kislin.

When the CIA does business with Mobsters, what’s the quid pro quo?

hotelHere in the U.S., where he is now known as “Hamptons-hopping businessman Arik Kislin” he ran a war chest for a Russian gang whose activities included “engaging in robberies, extortion shakedowns, drug and weapons dealing, as well as illegal prostitution and money laundering,” according to a panel of three German judges.

Caesars Drops Gansevoort From Vegas Project After Probe,” read a headline in an Oct 2013 Bloomsberg business story.  Caesars was dropping out of a $200 million project to brand the Hotel Gansevoort name in a high-end boutique hotel and casino operation on the Las Vegas Strip, Bloomsberg reported, “after regulators raised concerns about the hotel operator.”

Casino regulators in Nevada are apparently more worried about the growth of Russian Mob influence in the United States than U.S. intelligence agencies designed to protect the U.S.  from infiltration by exactly that kind of influence.

Caesar’s announcement promised to keep pushing for a high-end boutique hotel-casino project but maybe they were just being ironic when they identified a vendor they had in mind: “Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon.”

Through the Decades with The American Drug Lords

ramy13Interest in Ramy El Batrawi  was first sparked when an attorney for famous American drug smuggler Barry Seal became instrumental, after Barry Seal’s assassination in the mid-80’s,  in incorporating a number of corporate shell companies for Saudi fixer and CIA bag-man Adnan Khashoggi and his underling El Batrawi, with a number of entities appearing with addresses in the Tampa-St Petersburg area.

Fast forward to 2006. The announcement that  Sterling had chosen a close Adnan Khashoggi associate for an award designed to honor service to the homeless raised  eyebrows in LA.  Wary of another Sterling exercise in self-promotion, a reporter for the LA Times bluntly asked El Batrawi to cite one thing he’d done for the unfortunates living on Skid Row in downtown LA.

El Batrawi admitted he couldn’t recall anything offhand. Despite this glitch, the award was announced with great fanfare in full page ads in the Times and in a  flurry of press releases, during the summer of 2006, at the same time the drug operation in Tampa  was in full swing.

Ramy El Batrawi had also just been indicted  along with Adnan Khashoggi for stealing more than $120 million of investor and taxpayer money. (The figure would later double.) Khashoggi was on the lam. Under normal circumstances, this might be considered to be another glitch. But con men and spooks have a lot in common: both lie for a living. El Batrawi haughtily explained that one had nothing to do with the other. 

Next question?

N120NESterling’s choice of Ramy El Batrawi  as “Humanitarian of the Year” remains unexplained.  Whether the plane (a DC-9; N12ONE)  he ‘donated’ to the rogue drug operation in Tampa had anything to so with it remains unknown.

Yet to hide that transaction, the DC-9 was first was sold to Finova Corp., an admitted CIA front company in Phoenix and Toronto. Only then was it passed forward to Tampa.

Just a kid from Geneva

rabRamy El Batrawi represents the  prototype of what a polished international gangster will look like during the rest of the 21st Century.

Owing to his birth in Geneva, Switzerland, he exemplifies the bloodless idea that electronic transfers between anonymous accounts is somehow the new face of “transnational organized crime.” 

And he’s not an American, which means he can be used by U.S. intelligence services with the same added cushion of plausible deniability that made Dutch national Rudi Dekkers such an attractive asset in the years before the 9/11 attack.

He has made “fronting” airplanes and even airlines for the CIA into a career, posing during the Iran Contra scandal as the president of an Adnan Khashoggi-owned airline in Miami called Jetborne that secretly flew Oliver North’s TOW missiles to Iran.

On his website, he describes himself as a “businessman.”  If bunco artists, grifters, charlatans, stock fraud scamsters, racketeers, swindlers and flimflam men count as  businessmen, that may even be true.

Take a Stockwalk on the Wild Side

14205446El Batrawi and Khashoggi were the lead actors in a massive financial fraud called Stockwalk, that resulted in the biggest brokerage collapse in American history to the time (2005). It cost  investors and American taxpayers more than $200,000,000.

It was especially noteworthy for being both an ecumenical and an economical undertaking.  Ecumenical, because it brought together Israeli and Saudi fraudsters to work side-by-side with American and Canadian financial scam artists. And economical, because the financial hyena pack end of things did double duty, helping out at night, if you will. Example: Jonathon Curshen, doing 20 years for fraud just now, was a big help.

www_genesisintermedia_comIt also introduced a new way to illegally manipulate stock. The proof of concept was a Khashoggi and El Batrawi-led company called GenesisIntermedia.  German Deutchebank was eventually forced to pick up a pretty big tab: $265 million.

When Donald Sterling ‘gal-pal’ V Stiviano was punched out by a man she’d never met in front of New York’s Hotel Gansevoort, she’d enteredmaybe not another dimension of space and time, exactlybut a place where the old rule don’t apply. 

Its a place where you can get slapped around, or punched around, and American icons suggest you’re running a “slip an fall.”

Former LA Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said he hoped “she gets hit with a car.”

the2donaldsDonald Trump described her  as “the girlfriend from hell.” About the woman who taped her conversation with the Clippers owner, Trump told Fox & Friends, “It’s terrible. He got set up by a very, very bad girlfriend, let’s face it.”  Then, manfully ‘facing it,’ Trump called her a “terrible human being.”

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said he wished Sterling’s infamous ex had never shown her visor in the Big Apple.  “We would have hoped that she would stay on the West Coast.”

Celebrities at LA Clippers vs Denver Nuggets game at the Staples Center in LAPlacing America’s already shaky reputation in the hands of people that the New York Post calls the Shady Inn Crowd  should not be a decision left to an agency, the CIA, that has no problem with seeing a million American citizens go to prison for selling small amounts of what they offload by the ton.

When its all over, my money on who will be judged to have slipped and fallen in New York City two weeks ago will be on Donald Sterling,  a guy who wasn’t even there.

Daniel Hopsicker

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

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