Terrorists, drug runners, cover-ups, CIA, KGB and shady
characters are the cloak-and-dagger kinds of elements that make for a
riveting spy novel or action thriller. It’s hardly the place you’d expect to
find retired Green Bay businessman Wally J. Hilliard.
Yet Hilliard finds himself in the middle of a nonfiction tale
published as “Welcome to Terrorland: Mohamed Atta & the 9-11 Cover-Up in
Florida,” by Daniel Hopsicker (Mad Cow Press, $29.95). Hopsicker links Hilliard
to Huffman Aviation, the flight school that trained Atta and the other hijackers
who flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
The author implicates Hilliard in a complicated plot as the
investor in the flight school in Venice, Fla., and owner of a Lear jet that was
seized by Drug Enforcement Administration officials after it returned with a
passenger who was jailed for possession of heroin.
Hilliard denies any wrongdoing, and no one in the story has been
charged with anything. The material was posted on the Internet before being
incorporated into the just-published book, so Hilliard has been aware of the
claims for some time.
“Through a friend, I talked to an FBI agent,” Hilliard said
during a visit to Green Bay last week. “He said freedom-of-speech laws protect
the author. I could sue for libel, but even if I got $1 million judgment — that
and 50 cents would get me a cup of coffee. And I’d have spent $50,000 in legal
The story begins about six years after Hilliard retired to
Naples, Fla. While in Green Bay, Hilliard co-founded Employer’s Health Insurance
and American Medical Security companies. After selling AMS, he moved to Florida
where he golfed “until I got tired of it.”
He bought an airplane and decided to lease it for profit. Next
he met Rudi Dekkers and invested in the Venice flight school. He denies he’s the
owner of either the school or the company that owns Lear jets. “I never had
stock ownership. The only thing I did was loan money to Rudi. I got paid back at
30 cents on the dollar,” Hilliard said.
Degrees of separation
Hopsicker’s story picks up Hilliard’s connection less than three
weeks after hijackers Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi began flying lessons on July 6,
2000. A Lear jet belonging to “the true owner of Huffman Aviation, financier
Wallace J. Hilliard, 70, of Naples, Fla., was seized by federal agents at the
Orlando Executive Airport after they discovered 43 pounds of heroin onboard.”
Hopsicker also writes, “Because while Dekkers busied himself
training young Arab men to fly, his partner Wally Hilliard had been running a
charter service providing jets used to carry heroin, not a line of work you’d
expect a retired Midwestern insurance executive to take up as a hobby on
retirement in Florida.” Hopsicker also points out that Atta used Orlando as a
“Had Hilliard been an unwitting victim? Like Rudi, an innocent
business owner victimized by a world he never made?”
In an interview last week, Hopsicker said Hilliard was “deep
into investing” in what went on in Venice and that Dekkers was just a “front
“Court filings show he was the owner (of Huffman Aviation)
during the time terrorists were flying in and out. The two questions I have are
what was he doing in business with Rudi and what was he doing buying up a fleet
of planes after retirement?” Hopsicker said.
Hilliard tells the story differently — without reference to
government agencies, drug smuggling and terrorist links. He also has gotten to
the point where he can chuckle about a story he calls absurd.
“I once owned a Lear jet that was chartered by a pilot in Fort
Lauderdale,” Hilliard said. “He had a customer in Venezuela and made a few
regular trips back and forth. On one trip, it cleared customs and flew to
Orlando on the way to Washington, D.C. When they got to Orlando, he was greeted
by the DEA. They searched the luggage of the passenger and found heroin.
“The passenger went straight to jail. The pilot went straight to
jail for about 15 hours. He may have been dumb, but it wasn’t illegal. It was a
charter flight, and there was no way the pilot was guilty of anything, and I
hadn’t been within 50 miles of the plane at the time.
“The only reason you own a Lear jet is to fly it yourself or
lease it out for profit,” said Hilliard, who has a pilot’s license. He said he
has owned two Lear jets, not a fleet, as alleged in the book. “And the sale of
one and purchase of another may have overlapped so I owned two at a time for a
“I had no connection to the flight school. I have no ghost of an
idea as to who the students are. They had enough money to pay $40 an hour to
learn how to fly a single-engine plane. To learn to fly a jet, they had to go to
another flight school up north.”
He said, “I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve this character
assassination. I live my life as morally as I can — trying not to do anything
immoral, illegal or fattening.
“My motto is God is not kind to part-timers. I was in it part
time. Only do this if you can be in it full time,” he said. “You have to really
ride herd on those pilots or they’ll skin you.”
Hilliard said none of these allegations has caused problems for
him. He continues to have a variety of business deals going. He remarried five
years ago and adopted his wife’s five children. He also converted to the Mormon
faith. He has four children and seven grandchildren from a previous marriage.
“The FAA took a look at these allegations and said there was no
problem. I’ve never seen the book. I saw the stuff on the Internet and I went to
an attorney. I talked to the FBI and FAA. They all said it’s not worth the
trouble. Freedom of speech — that’s why we live in America.”
Of the book, he said, “That’s the business he’s in. He doesn’t
care what he has to do to sell books. If I read the book, all it would do is
make me mad. I don’t even want to mess with that.”
Hopsicker is also the author of “Barry & ‘the boys’ — The CIA,
the Mob and America’s Secret History.” He continues to write and make
documentaries. He was a business news producer for 20 years before becoming an
author. His investigative reporting appears in the MadCow Morning News (www.madcowprod.com).