New scandal spotlights terror flight
school's hidden ties
In the absence of the
government “white paper” promised by Secretary of State Colin Powell
in the wake of the 9/11 attack, it was left to British Prime Minister Tony
Blair to release a “summary of evidence” making the case against Osama
Blair said: “Al Qaeda
is a terrorist organization with ties to a global network."
VENICE, FL—May 27
by Daniel Hopsicker
may not be re-printed without
A controversy over the
sudden closing of a flight school in Orlando in early March reveals a hidden
connection between the bankruptcy in Orlando and the secretive organization
which ran Huffman Aviation in Venice, the unacknowledged home base of Mohamed
Atta and his Hamburg cadre during almost their entire time in the U.S.
The investigation into
the disappearance of millions of dollars which students had been forced
to pre-pay in tuition has led to 70-year old Wallace J. Hilliard of Naples,
FL, the shadowy financier whose purchase of Huffman in partnership with
Dutch national Rudi Dekkers, currently awaiting trial on felony fraud,
set in motion a chain of events culminating in two former students piloting
Boeing 767's into the World Trade Center Towers.
When 21-year-old Tiffany
Traynor moved from Michigan to Central Florida last year to pursue her
childhood dream of becoming an airline pilot at the Airline Training Academy
(ATA) in Orlando, the last thing she expected was to lose $75,000 and have
her career placed on hold when the school closed without warning and its
owners dropped out of sight.
But that’s what happened
to her, and 300 other fledgling pilots whose career dreams were dashed
by the loss of millions they had pre-paid the school in tuition for training
they will never receive.
In the blink of an eye, bright
futures turned bleak, as 20-yr-old students were suddenly left with $100,000
student loans to pay off and nothing to show for it.
Individual losses were so
large because the Airline Training Academy, owned and run by the family
of retired Delta pilot Jim Williams, followed the unusual practice of forcing
students to pre-pay, in full, for training.
It appears in hindsight that
the Williams family was thinking ahead.
"No big deal. It only
filled two suitcases."
But while the sudden closing
of ATA in Orlando is a heavy blow to hopeful future airline pilots, it
has proven useful in illuminating the murky world of aviation from which
the 9/11 tragedy sprung.
“Mystery financier” Wally
Hilliard is the common thread between the flight school ‘bust-out’
in Orlando and the story of the terrorists flight training. How and why
Hilliard, a retired insurance executive from Green Bay, Wisconsin, has
come to play a pivotal role in aviation in Florida is just one of the many
critical questions about 9/11 which remain unexplained.
Besides playing host to Mohamed
Atta, Hilliard’s most notable recent aviation involvement
was as owner of a Learjet surrounded by machinegun-toting DEA agents on
the runway of Orlando Executive Airport in July of 2000--the same month
Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi began training at his flight school--and discovered
to be carrying 43 pounds of heroin aboard. Officials later described the
haul as the largest seizure of heroin in Central Florida history.
But none of the frantic would-be
airline pilots seeking to discover what had happened to their money when
the doors clanged shut at the Airline Training Academy had yet heard of
But that was about to change.
The student's nightmare began
when they showed up for classes on a typical Friday morning, only to learn
that the school’s doors had closed.
They went looking for the
school’s owners and managers—all members of the Williams family—for
"Mum's the word in Orlando."
But there wasn't anybody
from the school's management to ask. What the students found, instead,
were grim-faced security guards, who told them to leave and ushered them
away from the school by mid-morning. For the students the frustration was
The company's phones went
unanswered. Executives could not be reached. The corporation's Orlando
lawyer did not respond to phone calls at his office or at home. Amid rumors
that some had skipped town, the school’s management had dropped
Students questioned why the
school had continued taking large sums of money for tuition even as it
was about to shut down.
“They closed on a Thursday
night,” student Ted Ballard told the Orlando Sentinel. “On that Thursday,
they took tuition money as late as 11 a.m., had it deposited in the bank
by 2 p.m. and closed the school at 5 p.m.”
The owners weren’t talking.
The Williams family made no statements. When the school shut down, "they
basically just disappeared,” said student Ballard.
And this is where Wally Hilliard
enters the picture, after students began to suspect that some criminal
sleight of hand might have played a role in stripping the school of assets.
They suspected they may have been the victims of a particularly cruel scam.
Attempting to protect any
remaining assets, the students went to court, and sued.
"The family that preys
The suit alleged that in
the weeks leading up to ATA's sudden closure the defendants had been “fraudulently
soliciting new students, and requesting and accepting payments of substantial
tuition, all in cash and in advance.”
At the same time, according
to the lawsuit, the Williams had been acquiring expensive luxury automobiles
for their personal use and otherwise engaging in a lifestyle free from
signs of financial distress or difficulty.
The family seemed to have
money to burn, the students alleged. Their money.
Suspicion focused on a transaction
the previous year in which the William’s family sold a charter air carrier,
Discover Air, to Sunrise Airlines, an aviation holding company controlled
by Wally Hilliard.
"At least three million got
siphoned out of ATA and into Discover Air," an attorney for the students
told us. "The money flowed out of the country to the Bahamas."
Conveniently, Wally Hilliard
owns an aviation facility in Nassau called Executive Air, run by Alfonso
Bowe, a South African native, where the busy Mr. Hilliard also owns a winery.
Students wanted to know:
is there a connection between the transfer of ownership of Discover Air
to Hilliard and the disappearance of millions of dollars of the student's
money? Had the Williams family concealed the assets of their about-to-be-bankrupted
flight school through the ruse of transferring them into another company?
While they were unable to
get answers about much of anything else, the students discovered that they
could get a loud and immediate answer to this question.
Don't be silly. ATA’s bankruptcy
had nothing to do with Discover Air, the students were told.
The general manager at Discover
Air, Tommy Barraza, said ATA and Discover Air were "definitely not connected;"
they ‘just happened’ to share the same officers, members of the
family of "Captain Jim" Williams, head honcho of the flight school, and
his son Scott, Discover Air's CEO.
"They're just a big family,"
Katherine Harris: the
gift that keeps on giving
Scott Williams wasn’t available
to speak to a reporter, he said, because "he's not around much."
Since they were separately
owned, it must have just been coincidence that Discover Air went bankrupt
within a month of the closing of the flight school.
There had been no commingling
of funds. No transfer of assets.
But look at the Discover
Air website, the students countered, which identified the flight school
as "the parent company of Discover Air."
There was no response from
the school's owners. Well, there was one...
They took the website down.
Nor is this the only documentation
to disappear in connection with the case. There is the famous visit by
Gov. Jeb Bush to Discover Air commemorated on their website, and then erased
after the MadCowMorningNews called attention to it.
And at the same time ATA
and Discover Air were going bust, corporate filings relating to Wally Hilliard
and his operations had begun to go missing at the Secretary of State’s
office in Tallahassee—Katherine Harris’s office.
A leading 9/11 researcher
gave us an early ‘heads up’ about the problem...
“It should be very simple
to look up earlier annual reports and documents...but in the past two months
the Secretary of State has made many documents unavailable online,” she
told us over a year ago.
“It's as though this was
a parting gift from Katherine Harris.”
Harris, we recalled, was
one of two Florida officials—the other being Gov. Jeb Bush—who somehow
found it necessary to publicly praise Wally Hilliard’s airline—then
flying as “Florida Air”— even though it too had been going bankrupt
at the time, six months before the 9/11 attack.
A document that would
have gone 'missing.'
We began keeping a running
total of bankruptcies of Wally Hilliard-related aviation concerns.
Already we were up to three.
After being warned of the
government’s chicanery in Florida—not, most would agree, a particularly
unusual event—staffers at the MadCowMorningNews downloaded from the Florida
Secretary of State’s website a number of documents.
One of these documents, we
discovered, contains crucial evidence in the Orlando flight school’s
bankruptcy, proving that two years before the Williams’ family say they
‘sold’ Discover Air to Wally Hilliard, Discover Air CEO Scott Williams
filed incorporation papers with the Florida Secretary of State’s office...
The company he was incorporating,
oddly enough, was Wally Hilliard’s Sunrise Airlines, the same company
which supposedly purchased his company two years later.
This faux pas represents
breathtakingly poor planning on some one's part, because it clearly and
unmistakably reveals skullduggery that only the fainthearted would not
term corporate fraud.
Corporate fraud was commonplace
at Wally Hilliard’s various aviation enterprises, we learned from a former
Director of Operations at Hilliard's Sunrise Airlines.
"I was the Director of Operations,
which meant my job was to decide which flights to cancel every day... Rudi
and Wally were running a whole bunch of companies as if they were just
one entity. The Dekkers’ Aviation account, for example, was used to fund
Sunrise debt," Bill Bersch told us.
“They had Florida Air,
Dekkers Aviation Group, Florida Air Holdings, LLC, and even Florida Air
Holdings, Inc., but since they intermingled funds all the time, I just
thought of them as one company. They all had the same personnel and the
same management, and they were all the same company,” he said.
"A blemish, sure, but
"The airline lost $800,000
in two months. All together, (Florida Air) ended up costing Wally almost
“Nobody will ever know
the extent to which these guys engaged in underhanded business deals. They
didn’t pay state taxes. They didn’t pay employee taxes.”
Not paying taxes is a blemish,
to be sure. But commingling funds is a criminal act. Presumably the U.S.
Government frowns on this sort of thing.
But when it comes to Wally
Hilliard’s various aviation enterprises, the U.S. Government— for still
unexplained reasons—often shows itself to be surprisingly generous...
One example with relevance
to the Orlando controversy involves yet another Hilliard-related
aviation bankruptcy, Sunrise Airlines, in November of 2000.
For those of you keeping
score at home, we’re up to four.
The assets which the students
suspected of having been illegally transferred out of the school before
it went bankrupt were a number of Jetstreams, a 19-passenger commuter jet,
which students had grown accustomed to seeing sit idle on the tarmac in
front of the school's hanger.
Although they were being
used by Discover Air, the MadCowMorningNews has discovered Government documents—copies
of the leases between Jet Acceptance Corporation and Airline Training Academy—which
reveal that these jets were being paid for by the flight school.
Now the Jetstreams were ‘missing.’
Incredibly, this is not the
first time these planes have been made to disappear.
"Hiding Jetstreams from
Before it filed for Chapter
11, Sunrise was collecting more than $ 3.3 million a year in federal subsidies
under the DOT's Essential Air Service program, a federal program implemented
20 years ago that offers subsidized service between rural airports and
larger, urban airports.
In its bankruptcy petition,
Sunrise Air said it was forced to shut down after it lost the six Jetstreams
it was leasing when the lessor "improperly" terminated their lease.
The November 4, 2000 Las
Vegas Review-Journal reported it this way:
“The only airline serving
Ely is suspending its operations, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Friday.
Sunrise Airlines notified the U.S. Transportation Department it was stopping
service because British Airways was ending its aircraft leases, Reid's
office said he was told by the department.”
It was a lie--but a convenient
lie, which apparently kept the Dept of Transportation from asking for their
three million dollars back--because when Wally Hilliard’s Sunrise Airlines
went belly up, the six Jetstreams were merely “transferred” to two
other of Hilliard’s false-front airline operations: Florida Air...and
When Sunrise Airlines ceased
operations, they walked away with both the Jetstreams and the U.S. Government's
$3.3 million. It was like going on “The Price Is Right” and getting
to keep both the money and the car.
The proof was right there
in the newspapers...
“Dekkers, one of Sunrise's
owners, said 32 pilots are being trained to fly the six 19-passenger Jetstream
J31 turboprops in its fleet,” the Sarasota Herald Tribune reported two
months after the Jetstreams were supposed to have been repossessed.
These were the Jetstreams
Senator Reid told his Nevada constituents had been suddenly taken back
by BAE, resulting in the airline going under. They were now in Florida,
and were it not for Rudi Dekker's ceaseless self-promotion no one would
ever have been the wiser.
Discover Air also used these
Jetstreams when they launched charter flights connecting Miami, Orlando,
St Petersburg and West Palm Beach with Key West and the Bahamas.
Even if he did represent
Nevada, a real life U.S. Senator had lied for Hilliard, which is certainly
an impressive credential. How well-connected does one have to be—or how
rich—to receive that kind of treatment from one's elected representatives?
"What's Wally doing in
Just weeks after launching
the intra-state commuter service Florida Air went bankrupt, too, lasting
barely long enough to get their only celebrity endorsement, a plug from
If you're still counting,
we’re now up to five. Idle thought: how many companies going bankrupt
are there that have been endorsed by both Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris?
For Hilliard, abject failure
may be easier to endure when you encounter so much of it. The few professional
airline personnel involved in Hilliard's operations found themselves baffled
and puzzled about even the purpose of the enterprise.
“I used to look at Wally
and Rudi and wonder what made them think they could start an airline,”
former Director of Operations Bersch told us.
“I mean, I was on the executive
team and here they were, trying to start an airline, and from August 2000
to the present we’ve had all of four business meetings.”
“Wouldn’t you think if
you were trying to start an airline you’d have at least weekly meetings?
And even when you could get a meeting scheduled, somebody would tell you
that it had been canceled because Wally is in Havana.”
When Discover Air went bankrupt
after ballyhooing new commuter air service between Orlando and Daytona
Beach, reporters learned that not one person had bought a ticket on the
That’s pretty brutal...if
your aim is to be an airline.
If scheduled passenger service
is the true aim of your enterprise, having not one person buy a ticket
on your flights is a real embarrassment.
But flying passengers may
not have been the purpose behind Discover Air or Florida Air or Sunrise
Airlines. Some aviation observers see something more than just monumental
incompetence in an operation simultaneously running drugs, 'busting out'
companies at will, and training terrorists to fly.
Some suspect Wally Hilliard’s
on-again off-again airlines were just cover.
Take, for example, the number
of key personnel who have since been forced, as they say, to flee the country...like
Pakistani national Pervez "P.J." Khan.
"Forced to flee town in
something of a hurry."
"Khan was flying Lear jets
around for Wally, and crashed one of them in Punta Gorda, injuring eight
people last year," one of Hilliard's current executives told us in the
middle of a derisive personnel run-down. "He was running a shady operation
for Wally, flying to Havana daily in a Cessna 402."
"The latest I hear about
P.J. is that he has to flee the country for one particular reason, and
I don’t know what that reason is," he said coyly.
Or another Sunrise Airlines
executive, former CEO Ian Alexander...
"He came to work drunk all
of the time," said Bill Bersch. "He used to live in Atlanta, came to work
for Florida Air, and has since fled to Canada."
Recall that when British
Prime Minister Blair named Al Qaeda as the terrorist organization responsible
for the 9/11 attack, he didn’t say it was a global network...
He said it had ‘ties’
Nearly 18 months later U.S.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham referred to “the most
important information” obtained in the Congressional probe of the Sept.
Graham couldn’t reveal
the information, however. It was classified.
His co-Chairman, Sen. Richard
Shelby, who called it a “bombshell,” wasn’t at liberty to say either.
But what both men did indicate
was that explosive evidence was being hidden from the American people involving
an international organization or government which, the Senators said, had
“facilitated the activities of the terrorist conspiracy while they were
in the United States.”
The Senators sound like they're
talking about Tony Blair’s unnamed ‘global network.’
Living underground has
Certainly the notion that
Mohamed Atta and his henchmen got help from an international organization
while they were in Florida is easy to understand...
Logistical support is difficult
to arrange from caves.
But to this day the identity
of the organization in question remains a closely-guarded secret.
Now the recent events in
Orlando—a central Florida crossroads which Mohamed Atta frequented often
enough to have opened a second bank account there—may help change all
The man who owned the ‘terror’
flight school in Venice Florida is involved with false front airlines,
dummy front companies, shadowy charter operations of dubious intent and
a politically-well-connected network plugged in to everyone from First
Brother Jeb Bush to Clinton "fund-raiser" Truman Arnold.
This is indisputably a ‘global
network;’ it is both covert and unacknowledged, and it was the American
interface with the terrorists while they were here.
And nobody is investigating
it...except the MadCowMorningNews.
In the hours and days after
the terrorist attack front man Rudi Dekkers loudly proclaimed his innocence
of collusion with the terrorists. This statement did nothing to explain
their puzzling move from a rough port famous for its red light district
to a retirement community offering a broad choice of assisted living environments.
Federal authorities have
apparently so far bought the story. Like almost everything else to do with
the 9/11 attack, it has escaped official comment, not to mention notice
in the major media.
The silence has been deafening.
It's too bad these guys are
so politically—and every other way—-connected.
would probably look into it.