A six-year long investigation into the drug trafficking operation in St Petersburg Florida that was exposed when two planes were busted in the Yucatan carrying a total of 10 tons of cocaine revealed the planes had all been “parked,” or “sheep-dipped,” in the names of straw owners to conceal the CIA’s involvement.
The composition of this group of straw owners, composed of a fascinating collection of people with often interlocking connections through various other enterprises, says a lot about the circles the CIA runs in.
Among the few who lent their names to the registration of more than one of these CIA planes is the granddaughter of Texas oil tycoon H.L. Hunt, who back in the 1930’s was known as the richest man in America. Hunt’s other singular distinction is having been accused by Russian newspaper Pravda of being behind the JFK assassination.
A disquieting discovery
The investigation uncovered incontrovertible, if unsurprising, proof of involvement in the operation by the Mob (in this case, the Chicago Outfit) by Texas oil interests, Saudi financiers, and, of course, the CIA.
But unearthing new evidence about the CIA’s role in the drug trade for the past 50 years no longer provides much grist for the gossip mill. Time marches on. Gary Webb was right. Everybody knows it.
One sign of the times is that where once there was outrage over CIA involvement in drug trafficking, today many seem glad to see the Agency developing outside interests that don’t require access to a dungeon.
What is eye-opening however is the disquieting discovery that those involved in the enterprise, like Adnan Khashoggi and his lieutenant Ramy El-Batrawi, both of whom have long histories in past CIA operations, also used their ability to operate with impunity—their get out of jail free card—to act like the worst sort of double-dealing flimflam men, bunco artists and grifters.
They were doing the CIA “double-dip.” Keeping one eye on incoming flights at St Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport for news of a drug plane’s safe return to Florida, and one eye on the fine print in SEC filings.
Khashoggi and El-Batrawi used a slick financial stock scheme to game the system, and plunder hundreds of millions of dollars from investors and taxpayers in what became known as Stockwalk, which led to what was then (2004-2005) the largest brokerage bankruptcy since the Great Depression.
Khashoggi and El-Batrawi participated in the wide-spread looting of the American economy. But they were far from acting alone.
Was the plundering systematic?
The sheer number of clearly CIA-connected entities engaged in massive financial fraud, for example, by stripping companies of their assets and using bankruptcy laws to walk away, that I encountered while pursuing links to drug trafficking in St. Petersburg was astonishing. A big question today: Was the plundering systematic?
But first,today, a brief explanation of the overt role in the drug trafficking operation played by the two Saudi men. Khashoggi lieutenant Ramy El-Batrawi supplied one of SkyWay’s twin DC-9’s.
Once I’d obtained the FAA registration records for the two DC-9’s, N900SA and N12ONE, it soon became obvious that both planes had been sheep-dipped through a number of owners of convenience to hide the identity of their true owners, the CIA.
Start here: Sometime in June of 2003 someone made the decision that SkyWay’s fleet of planes needed beefing up with a second DC-9.
Khashoggi and El-Batrawi had one. But there was a problem. Given the controversy over the massive fraud involved in the bankrupting of Khashoggi and El-Batrawi’s GenesisIntermedia, by 2003 El-Batrawi’s aviation company, Genesis Aviation, was not exactly the CIA’s most discreet aviation front company.
How can you tell if a plane’s been sheep-dipped by the CIA?
An almost-always accurate test for picking a sheep-dipped CIA plane out of a line-up: Check out the previous owners. Why? Because when the CIA needs a specific make of plane, they don’t thumb through the “Planes for Sale” ads in Trade-A-Plane magazine.
They find the needed plane among the Agency’s own vast inventory. (Remember: the CIA at one time fielded the largest airline on the planet.) Once they’ve found the plane they want, they will very often sell it back and forth a few times between a few of the Agencies’ thousands of off-the-shelf dummy front companies to throw anyone snooping around off the scent.
It makes for sloppy “tradecraft.” But hardly anyone ever looks. And the biggest enemy to the anonymity of the CIA’s air fleet in recent years have been the planespotters, who don’t pore over registration records, but intuit a plane’s function by tracking the routes it flies over time.
Okay. Preamble over. So on July 3 2003, the registration records of N12ONE shows it being sold by El-Batrawi’s Genesis Aviation to Finova Capital Corporation in Scottsdale Arizona. So already there’s a big red flag.
Briefly, while writing “Barry & the Boys,” I began tracing one of CIA pilot Barry Seal’s favorite planes, a Beechcraft King Air, which later turned up in the aviation pool of Texas Governor George W. Bush, where it was reportedly Bush’s favorite plane. It was curious.
An offshore CIA front company
The Beech King Air 200, as well as several others used by Barry Seal, were owned by Greyhound Leasing of Phoenix, a subsidiary of Finova, a CIA front company set up in Arizona and headquartered in Canada to escape American financial disclosure requirements.
Then there’s notorious CIA airline Southern Air Transport (SAT), which owned the C-123 used by Barry Seal in the Nicaragua sting operation which made him famous. The same C-123 was later shot down over Nicaragua in 1986, and the lone survivor Eugene Hasenfus was captured by Sandinista soldiers, setting off what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal.
Back then, no one knew, or admitted knowing, who owned Southern Air.
So Finova’s presence is a big red flag. Another red flag: Finova doesn’t show up just once in the FAA records of the plane.
The original owner of the DC-9 (N12ONE) was Finova subsidiary Greyhound Leasing of Phoenix, who also owned some of CIA pilot and drug smuggler Barry Seal’s planes. The company registered the plane in Nov of 1976.
An exercise in sheep-dipping
On the same day El-Batrawi’s Genesis Aviation sold the DC-9 to Finova, Finova turned around and sold the plane to Scott Aviation in Chicago, owned by a cement contractor with a hot temper named Anthony Aiello.
But apparently the day was still young, because also on July 2 Scott Aviation sold the plane to Anthony Aiello and Gregory Hodgson. In effect, Aiello was selling the plane to himself. While I was tempted to phone him and ask why, upon reflection I thought better of it.
The exercise in sheep-dipping is complete when Aiello sells the DC-9 to Skyway and Royal Sons Inc., a company owned by one of Skyway’s directors, Frederic Geffon. It was presumably designed to thwart anyone making a connection between the St Petersburg-based Khashoggi and El-Batrawi and the St Petersburg-based SkyWay.
Now things get really interesting. Because another now-bankrupt Chicago corporation, HW Aviation, co-owned by Geoffrey Hodgson, who as we’ve just seen also briefly owned N12ONE, also owned the other DC-9, (N900SA), the one busted in the Yucatan carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine.
There are hundreds of DC-9’s still flying. The odds of one company owning both planes that ended up flying for SkyWay are pretty slim…unless there is a concealed entity moving both planes around.
This is not the only example of an owner which owned both planes. Recent owners of the St Petersburg FL-based DC9, for example, have interlocking partnerships with recent owners of the St Petersburg FL-based Gulfstream II business jet—whose owners we haven’t even addressed yet!—that crashed in the Yucatan in September 2007 carrying almost four tons of cocaine.
Revelation of the identity of another owner of both DC-9’s pretty much rules out coincidence as being the cause for the same people and businesses stumbling into ownership of two of the hundreds of DC-9’s still flying …while otherwise having nothing to do with each other.
Oil Tycoon's Granddaughter owned both planes
Texas oilman H.L. Hunt founded Hunt Petroleum Corp. In 1930 he purchased an oil well in Rusk County, Texas, and 5,000 acres surrounding it which locked up control of what turned out to be the largest pool of petroleum in the Lower 48. By 1935 oil tycoon H. L. Hunt was known as the richest man in America.
His sons became famous after him. Nelson Bunker Hunt was famous for his far-right conservative views, and for one almost succeeding in cornering the silver market. Lamar Hunt, longtime owner of the Kansas City Chiefs, spearheaded the creation of the American Football League.
When Forbes magazine published its first list of the 400 wealthiest Americans in 1982, the Hunt family claimed 5 of the top 10 spots.
H.L. Hunt’s granddaughter, Alinda Hill Wikert, has owned at various times both of the Dc-9’s made famous by SkyWay in St. Petersburg, through three separate companies, Wesael, JRW Aviation, and Express One International.
On November 20,1987, one of her companies, Wesael Corp of Dallas, buys the DC-9 N12ONE From Harrah’s Casino in Reno.
On the 31st of May 1989 another of her companies, Express One International, purchases DC-9 (N12ONE) from Wesael Corp, another of her companies.
On the 22nd of December 1997, JRW Aviation of Dallas, which she owns with her husband, aviation executive James Wickert, buys DC-9 (N900SA) from K.E.B. Aircraft.
On the 15th of November 2000, JRW Aviation buys DC-9 (N900SA).
What does it all mean?
At the very least, the interlocking ownership of just these two planes speaks to a large operation.
There remain several pieces of information important to the story.
Express One founder Ken Good was also in business with former CIA pilot Mark Shubin. Good’s airline supplied aircraft and crews to Sky Bus during his brief life an airline. In 1992, Express One supplied the campaign plane used by Presidential candidate Bill Clinton.
Bringing things roughly full circle, Mark Shubin was also partnered in several ventures and a hand-full of planes with Huffman Aviation flight school owner Wally Hilliard. Shubin’s Sky Bus, Inc. shared ownership of two planes, tail numbers N11UN and N111UN, with Wally Hilliard’s Plane 1 Leasing.
The ‘UN’ designation on the tail number seemed an obvious clue. And in fact Shubin owned a company called ‘International Diplomatic Courier Services,’ which apparently worked at the UN.
Being able to access diplomatic pouches must have been a great comfort.
Today the president of Express One International is David Byers, at whose flight school Mohamed Atta trained at the Charlotte County Airport, according to Charlotte County Sheriff William Clements.
Finally, there is a little more possibly pertinent information to pass on about Alina Hill Wickert’s famous grandfather.
In 1963, Dallas billionaire H.L. Hunt poured millions into a ceaseless anti-Kennedy radio campaign; it was the dawn of extremist radio in the nation. Hunt’s program, “Life Line,” reached 10 million listeners a day with scorching attacks against Kennedy.
Hunt also controlled a vast private intelligence network, that included the John Birch Society.
Hunt’s son purchased a full-page ad in the Dallas newspaper the day JFK arrived, accusing the President of betraying the Constitution. A leaflet appeared all over town that accused JFK of treason.
Immediately after the JFK assassination H. L. Hunt was rushed to the airport and taken out of the country by the FBI. Supposedly, they’d received notice of a plot to kill him. But instead of protective custody, they moved Hunt to a secret destination in Mexico.
Lyndon Johnson’s former mistress, Madeleine Duncan Brown, told author Robert Gaylon Ross prior to her death in 2002 that Johnson was involved in the murder of JFK. The plot that had its origins in the 1960 Democratic Convention.
Johnson, according to Brown, colluded with oil tycoon H. L. Hunt to have Kennedy eliminated.
On the night before the assassination Johnson allegedly said, “Those SOBs will never embarrass me again.”
The top Russian newspaper, Pravda, (which, for what its worth, means truth) announced that Texas oil man H.L. Hunt arranged JFK assassination.
Maybe it was just a lucky guess.