9/11: The Evangelical
VENICE, FL—April 8
by Daniel Hopsicker
copyright 2003 MadCowMorningNews
may not be printed without
The money man behind two
Florida flight schools which trained an as-yet undisclosed number of terrorist
pilots has ties with the Evangelical Christian Right, including having
loaned televangelist Jerry Falwell a reputed $1 million to bailout his
failing religious enterprises a decade ago, and serving as Director of
an avowedly Christian aeronautics company planning to manufacture a new
business jet in Israel, the MadCowMorningNews has learned.
Rudi Dekkers’ financier
Wallace J. Hilliard, 70, has so far managed to avoid being caught in the
glare of publicity surrounding former business partner Dekkers, currently
facing a charge of felony fraud as well as an ongoing multi-agency federal
But Hilliard's Huffman Aviation,
the Venice flight school which trained both pilots who crashed airplanes
into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, has recently been embroiled
in controversy in Falwell’s Lynchburg, VA. hometown.
As the MadcowMorningNews
reported last February, a previously-unknown company housed inside Huffman
was awarded a large government contract at the airport in Lynchburg under
circumstances that had left aviation observers there uneasy.
Revelation of Huffman owner
Wally Hilliard's prior ties with the controversial Falwell may finally
shed some light on that murky transaction. In addition it provides something
of a window on the successful entrepreneur whose company’s unusual
corporate motto was reported to be “Hate Sin, Fight Communism,
and Back the Pack!”
We met a former Hilliard
executive who told us that at one time he been assigned the task of dunning
the founder of Liberty University and Pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist
Church to repay the note.
"The Falwell note was an
outstanding receivable I was assigned to collect,” explained the former
The Lord works in mysterious
In the course of trying to
get Falwell to address the unpaid debt he heard details of the Rev. Falwell’s
accounting practices upon which the Almighty would presumably frown.
“I talked to Falwell’s
accountant, who was very apologetic,” the former Hilliard executive stated.
“He said there was plenty of money to pay off the loan, except any time
there was money left in the account at the end of the month Jerry stripped
told me 'if I can pay you in chunks off the books so Jerry doesn’t see
it, I can get it handled.’
"So we worked out a payment
schedule. And after that checks drawn on Liberty University came in for
a few months, until Falwell figured out what was going on and put a stop
to it,” Hilliard’s former manager stated.
In an occasionally contentious
interview with the MadCowMorningNews Hilliard confirmed making the loan
Asked how much he had lent
the Baptist minister, Hilliard reply was, “More than I want to tell you
A native of Green Bay, WI.,
Hilliard had retired to Naples, FL. in the mid-'90's only to then go on
a buying spree of aviation assets in Southwest Florida that eventually
ran into tens of millions of dollars with an unlikely partner. Rudi Dekkers
had been the subject of a relatively recent federal investigation and had
a reputation as a deadbeat that was so bad that at one time he reportedly
couldn't buy aviation fuel at the Naples, FL. airport... for cash.
While Rudi Dekkers' mounting
legal woes have been the focus of those probing the Venice operations of
the ‘terror flight schools,’ his business partner Wally Hilliard has
been adjudged an equally-interesting character deserving of equally-close
"Just leave the watches
Hilliard’s Rolodex, for
example, includes everything from Whitewater scandal figure Truman Arnold
to Evangelical Christian mover-and-shaker Falwell, and even includes Latin
American dictator Fidel Castro.
Hilliard owned the only air
carrier claiming to have regular service to Havana, and made numerous trips
to Cuba courting Castro for business concessions, using the simple expedient
of flying in bearing what sources described as "hand-full’s of Presidential
In addition to hanging out
with Reverend Jerry Falwell, Wally Hilliard has a second tie to the Evangelical
Christian milieu, as a Director of VisionAire Corp in St. Louis,
an aircraft developer which spent millions of dollars developing a business
jet but never sold a plane.
Jim Rice, the company’s
CEO and head “VisionAire,” was a former religious fundraiser, who ran
his business as something of a religious crusade. When asked why he founded
the company he credited divine inspiration.
"I had been wondering what
God wanted me to do next," he said in an interview at his home. "When I
pray, it's more listening than asking. The more I listened, the more I
felt this is what He wanted me to do."
at Spirit of St. Louis Airport was described by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
as having an “undercurrent of spirituality,” with one employee telling
the paper she had come to work at the company after being attracted by
the “strong Christian faith” of top management.
But that faith must have
been sorely tested by a widely-publicized $30 million civil lawsuit filed
by two former officers. They alleged that they had complained to CEO Rice
that he had misled investors about the company’s prospects for FAA certification.
Then all hell broke loose.
There's no such thing
as Christian porn
The two officers had been
having, apparently, an illicit affair; their suit alleged that in retaliation
for their allegations the company "caused video recordings to be made of
plaintiffs' private activities,” and then "unreasonably publicized private
and personal details of plaintiffs' lives."
VisionAire Corp. officials
won dismissal of the suit, but it was a Pyrrhic Victory, since they never
won FAA approval for their plane.
As the company’s finances
worsened, some "enraptured" employees ended up working for free, or even
subsidizing their employer by using their personal credit cards to pay
for company expenses.
One former employee told
a reporter, "A lot of us felt the company had let us down. Not intentionally,
but we felt bitter and kind of stupid for listening to Jim Rice in the
CEO Rice was confronted by
one investor who angrily told him, "My investment isn't worth anything
That night, Rice later told
a reporter, he had prayed for the investor. "I forgave him. He was an angry
man. He was in more pain than I was."
In a bid to keep the plane
alive, in 2001 Rice solicited Israeli involvement; a July 3, 2001 press
release from Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) describes Israeli plans to
help the manufacturer attract funding to manufacture the six-seat business
jet in Israel.
What are they hiding down
in Venice, Florida?
The unanswered question is
whether Hilliard’s colorful political and business associations provided
a rationale for entering into an aviation partnership with Rudi Dekkers.
The two were--universally, so far as we can tell--regarded as an Odd Couple
by observers at the Venice and Naples airports.
It is widely believed, and
confirmed by Hilliard himself in various court filings, that Wally Hilliard
lost millions of dollars in his aviation adventures with Rudi Dekkers.
What is less well-known is
that at the time of their purchase of Huffman Aviation in May of 1999,
the partnership was already losing sizable amounts of money every month
on their recently-purchased Naples flight school.
Hilliard and Dekker’s aviation
operations appeared to make no discernible business sense. Even the terror
flight school purchase came at an inflated price, according to local aviation
“They did no due diligence
to the best of my knowledge,” stated Coy Jacobs, who owns a sales and
maintenance facility at the Venice Airport.
Stated Jacobs: “They
blew into town. They were here a day or two...met with Stan Huffman, he
named a number, they said yes and wrote him a check, and then they notified
City of Venice of what they had done after the fact.”
“And that’s a criteria.
You cannot transfer properties at this airport, and most federally funded
airports, without the governing authority’s approval.”
Wally Hilliard and Rudi Dekkers’
purchase of Huffman Aviation in 1999 set in motion a chain of events that
led directly to people hanging out of 100th story office windows in New
York and asking themselves whether it would be less painful to jump.
Both Atta’s terrorist cadre
and the Arab terrorist bombers of the early ‘90’s, several of whom
also attended flight schools in the U.S., clustered around just a handful
of flight schools, leading to speculation that the hijackers might not
have had totally easy and unfettered access to any flight school in America
It appears they may have
been siphoned into only a few. It is not clear that had Hilliard and Dekkers
not teamed up in a Venice flight school that the terrorists would have
just gone to another.
A Green light from God
Being associated with Huffman
Aviation seems to have been an excellent calling card with a variety of
government agencies, it now appears.
Lynchburg reporters looking
into “Britannia Aviation” quickly learned it was a virtually non-existent
as a corporate entity, and would have needed to grow to be considered even
a dummy front company.
Nonetheless, Britannia was
awarded a sizable government contract to run an aviation maintenance facility
at the Lynchburg Airport, for which they lacked the requisite FAA licenses,
over a local Lynchburg company vastly-more qualified and substantial.
The City Fathers of Lynchburg,
VA. greased the way for a company which no one knew anything about, other
than that it had been housed at Huffman Aviation.
Hilliard and Dekkers’ hasty
purchase of Huffman without prior government approval exposed them to serious
business losses should they not receive approval for a lease at the airport.
But the City Council of Venice
smiled with favor on them, and they received kid glove treatment from local
city officials, who nonetheless would have been happy to see them move
their operation somewhere else.
The Huffman/Lynchburg story
grew immeasurably in significance when a Britannia executive boasted of
his firm’s experience in working with regional air carriers, during a
Lynchburg City Council meeting.
The Britannia official cited
as proof an existing maintenance contract which Dekker’s Huffman Aviation
had with air carrier Caribe Air, which is widely viewed as a CIA proprietary.
The consternation at the
airport in Lynchburg has not diminished in the six months since Britannia
moved in. Instead, suspicions have grown, because of what observers cite
as the “secretive nature” of operations at the facility.
When the owner of a hangar
at the Venice Airport asked an aviation source with government connections
about Britannia Aviation it created a bit of a stir.
"This guy got all excited
as soon as I asked," he told us.
"He immediately wanted to
know why I was so interested in Britannia. Finally he reluctantly told
me that Britannia had a 'green light' from the DEA at the Venice Airport,
whatever that means. He also said the local Venice Police Department had
been warned to leave them alone.”
We don’t know what having
a “green light from the DEA” means, either.
But it certainly sounds like
an impressive credential.