Kurds are being slaughtered in Syria, there’s a tsunami in Japan, hundreds of ISIS fighters have escaped from jail, and Attorney General Bill Barr, who according to numerous witnesses while working for the CIA enabled cocaine trafficking through Mena, Arkansas during the 1980’s, was delivering a speech at Notre Dame blaming “the decline of religion” and the “destruction of moral order” in the U.S. for the drug abuse he helped create.
So why should anyone care about the latest corrupt conservative Christian evangelical, Jerry Falwell Jr., President of Liberty University, his wife, and a pool boy in Miami? Or give a second thought to the imbroglio over his continued leadership of the influential Bible college in Lynchburg, Virginia?
Two reasons: Falwell is currently instrumental in shoring up Donald Trump’s base of evangelicals, eighty-one percent of whom still plan on voting for Donald Trump, despite his flouting of their “traditional values.”
Falwell is also backing Trump’s ‘controversial’ decision to abandon the Kurds. He said Trump was simply “keeping his promise to keep America out of endless wars.”
“The president has got to do what’s best for the country, whether it helps him with this phony impeachment inquiry or not,” Falwell said in an interview.
Moreover, evangelical Christians have been among Trump’s most loyal supporters. They stood with him through the “Access Hollywood” tape and the Stormy Daniels payoff, through public vulgarity and blasphemy, through cruelty to migrant children and abuses of power for personal gain. In exchange, they can point to policies and judges restricting abortion and gay rights.
But I like the second reason: It’s not every day that a controversy over the latest Christian evangelical’s involvement in rampant corrupt and seemingly criminal activity reveals new information about the 9/11 attack.
But that’s what recently happened.
A curious connection
I have some inside information on the Falwells.
Back in 2004 I discovered a curious connection between Jerry Falwell Sr. and Wally Hilliard, the owner of Huffman Aviation flight school at the Venice Florida airport that trained Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi to fly.
I had been exploring the world inhabited by Mohamed Atta, Huffman Aviation manager Rudi Dekkers, and owner Wallace J. Hilliard while researching a book called “Welcome to TerrorLand.”
Soon thereafter the connection between Falwell and Hilliard—and by extension American intelligence—were highlighted during a dispute at the Lynchburg Regional Airport, in Lynchburg, Virginia, in which I became peripherally involved.
Today, like his Dad, Jerry Falwell Sr., who founded Liberty University, the Christian Coalition, and was the Pastor at Thomas Road Baptist Church, Jerry Falwell Jr has a network of criminal associates.
“Islamic fundamentalist” Osama bin laden cloaked his covert activities under the cover of religious charities. What I wondered: “Do our own government intelligence agencies used the same ruse?
“You helped make this happen.”
It’s worth noting how truly shocking Jerry Falwell Sr’s connection to Huffman Aviation, the terrorist’s flight school, really was.
Decreed Falwell, “The pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make it an alternative lifestyle. The ACLU, People for the American Way—all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped make this happen.’”
What made his post-9/11 outburst so strange was that—at that same time—he was in debt, to the tune of over a million dollars, to someone who unlike the pagans did seem to bear responsibility for what happened: Wallace J. Hilliard, whose flight school in Florida hosted Atta during his time in the U.S.
Falwell made no mention, then or ever, of his curious debt to secretive Green Bay financier Wallace J. Hilliard, whose flight school abetted, if unwittingly, the terrorist presence in the United States.
All of which makes Jerry Junior’s current contretemps over corruption with protesting students, faculty, and administrators at Liberty University feel distinctly like Divine Retribution.
Fast forward to the present
Corrupt conservative Christian evangelicals are pretty run of the mill these days. And they always seem to involve salacious allegations. Sins of the flesh seem somehow resistant to being prayed away.
In addition to the hanky-panky— which we’ll get to—Jerry Junior mocked students as ‘retarded;’ graphically discussed his sex life with employees; and used school funds to benefit his friends and family. One official complained, “We’re not a school; we’re a real estate hedge fund.”
What wasn’t run of the mill was Falwell’s response: he called in Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, a Ukrainian-American with documented ties to Russian mobsters.
Cohen, who is serving a three-year prison sentence, said he helped the university president deal with some racy “personal” photographs in 2015. Falwell has denied these claims.
“Months before evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr.’s game-changing presidential endorsement of Donald Trump in 2016, Falwell asked Trump fixer Michael Cohen for a personal favor,” reported Reuters.
Cohen made the assertion in a phone call with actor Tom Arnold, who provided The Washington Post with a recording of the call. “There’s a bunch of photographs — you know, personal photographs — that somehow, the guy ended up getting,” Cohen said on the call.
The unidentified person who had the photos was demanding money from the Falwells. Cohen threatened to report the person to legal authorities, at least according to Reuters, which had only Cohen’s own word for it.
What is pressing is the answer to the question of whether Jerry Falwell Jr, an icon of conservative evangelicals, has connections with the transnational criminal network which was behind the ascension of Donald Trump.
A blast from the past
It started with a letter from a reporter in Lynchburg, Virginia. “Hello sir,” the letter began. “My name is Chris Flores and I’m the business reporter at the Lynchburg News & Advance, a 40,000 daily in Lynchburg, Va.”
Flores was writing, he said, because an unknown company, Britannia Aviation, had been awarded a five-year contract to run a large regional maintenance facility at the Lynchburg Virginia Regional Airport, over a much better-qualified local firm, Virginia Aviation.
The award— in suspicious circumstances hinting at involvement by an influential-but-invisible ‘presence’ with the power to affect government decision-making in Lynchburg—left local aviation observers scratching their heads.
“Virginia Aviation was really pissed that they lost the bid to a little company in Florida for this large facility,” explained Flores.
“Right away, Virginia Aviation’s VP Jim Lampmann started questioning this company’s credentials, to the point where I’d be setting the paper up for liability if I printed it,” he wrote.
‘I would hope the city would do due diligence before they turn over a major facility,’ Lampmann said.’
“It seemed like the talk of a monopolist who doesn’t want more competition. However, he did point out that Britannia did not have an FAA license to work on planes, and (yet) Britannia plans to set up a large operation here to work on regional carriers for Delta and US Air (Express).”
“And he was right. They didn’t have the FAA license. Paul Marten, the Brit who is VP of the company, said he didn’t have the license because they were just working out of a small hangar on planes for Huffman Aviation under Huffman’s license,” Flores wrote.
“Which goes back to your boy Rudi Dekkers.”
Not just a matter of paying the rent
When Britannia was chosen for the contract in Lynchburg, local Lynchburg news reports on the controversy questioned why the tiny unknown firm from Venice was being shoe-horned in at the Lynchburg Airport.
No one knew anything about Britannia Aviation in Lynchburg, other than that it had been housed at Huffman Aviation. Nor could they figure out why someone behind the scenes had been pulling strings to win a government contract for a company housed in a hangar at Huffman Aviation in Venice.
At a Lynchburg City Council hearing on the dispute, there were vocal objections from local aviation observers baffled at why a company with no qualifications was being awarded a contract over a much better-qualified local aviation firm.
“Some commission members were concerned that they hadn’t details of Britannia’s bid, and that the company’s un-audited finances weren’t given to commissioners until some had asked for it,” reported Flores in the Lynchburg News and Advance.
The city’s response made it seem the only issue was the question of collecting the rent.
“As a result of the questions raised concerning financial fitness,” said Airport Manager Mark Courtney, “we put a clause in requiring Britannia to put down the first six months of rent.”
Aviation executives began voicing their concerns to anyone who would listen. Britannia’s financial statement, released only after prodding, showed the “company” had virtually no assets, employees, or corporate history and was worth less than $750.
Britannia—which didn’t even possess the necessary FAA license to perform the aircraft maintenance services for which it had just been contracted—had nonetheless been chosen over a respected local company which boasted a multi-million-dollar balance sheet and more than 40 employees.
To me, it was reminiscent of the hasty purchase of Huffman Aviation itself without prior government approval, a year before the terrorist began to arrive, which aviation observed said exposed Wally Hilliard to serious business losses if he did not receive quick approval of his lease.
Whatever made Huffman Aviation certain that the City Council of Venice would rubber stamp their deal was also operating on behalf of Britannia Aviation in Lynchburg.
What does this have to do with the Falwells and Liberty University?
In September of 2003, the year after the company moved in, the Lynchburg City Council approved the assignment of the Britannia Aviation lease to Aviation Technical Services [same ownership]. The next year the City Council approved the assignment of the lease to Falwell Aviation, which soon changed its name to Freedom Aviation.
The Lynchburg, Virginia, not-for-profit university, founded in 1971 by his late father, the Rev Jerry Falwell Sr, had expanded exponentially. By 2016, Liberty’s net assets crossed the $1.6 billion mark, up more than tenfold from a decade earlier. Its net income was an astonishing $215 million.
The University’s assets have grown from $259 million in 2007 to over $3 BILLION today. According to its tax ﬁling, it is one of the most lucrative nonproﬁts in the country, in a league with some of the largest nonproﬁt hospital systems.
A contributing factor was that Liberty University owned what used to be called Brittania Aviation. After being ‘folded’ into Falwell Aviation, which then changed its name to Freedom Aviation, it became the largest aviation company at Lynchburg Airport.
I had been unaware of this development until the recent Falwell scandal brought it to my attention. It clearly made Brittania Aviation’s move from the Venice Airport to Lynchburg seem far more purposive than imagined.
Origins of the operation
During Brittania’s introduction to Lynchburg, a city official had attempted to wave aside objections that Britannia was insolvent with a joke. “At least they have more on their balance sheet than Enron,” said Lynchburg City Councilman Robert Garber.
Paul Marten, a British aircraft mechanic who was the Britannia executive in attendance, rose to say it wasn’t true. Britannia’s assets, he felt sure, amounted to more than $750, though how much more was a question he left unanswered.
To reassure those in attendance that his company was real and solvent, Marten said that while housed at Huffman Aviation’s hangar at the Venice Airport, they had for some time been successfully providing aviation maintenance services for a Caribbean air carrier called Caribe Air.
Whatever this meant to the Lynchburg Virginia city council, his statement had serious ramifications to an understanding of Huffman Aviation.
Paul Marten’s little company was working for a notorious CIA proprietary air carrier with a particularly checkered past.
A checkered past
Aircraft owned by the company had seized by federal officials at the infamous Mena Arkansas airport, involving accusations by government prosecutors that the company maintained as many as 20 planes to ship drugs worth billions of dollars into the U.S.
Caribe Air was run by German national and longtime CIA asset Dietrich Reinhardt, who had a partner at the Charlotte County Florida Airport who was suspected of stealing as many as 23 helicopters… from the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Dept.
It was obvious some sort of national security skullduggery was afoot.
When I dropped in unannounced at his office in a Huffman Aviation hangar, Paul Martens had no comment on the report.
He was just an honest British businessman, he said. He had ties to Lynchburg Virginia. He had met his wife there, while she was a student at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.
Her father was a pastor for the Reverend Falwell.
A question with no discernible answer
Hilliard today is 87, and lives in his native Wisconsin. A relative of his claims he suffers from dementia. The most recent reference to him I could find was from 2014, when his application for an insurance license was denied in Wisconsin, “based on allegations of failing to respond promptly to inquiries and having unpaid civil money judgments.”
Aviation executives close to Hilliard’s operation told me his accountant, Stuart Burchill, had some answers about the loan to Falwell.
After staking out his house in Naples for several days, I finally tracked him down. Burchill told an interesting story. He didn’t just know where all the bodies were buried, he seemed to know where they’d been cut up before being buried.
He said Hilliard had assigned him the task of dunning deadbeat Falwell to repay the money Falwell owed his boss.
“The Falwell note was an outstanding receivable I was assigned to collect,” Burchill explained. “I talked to Falwell’s accountant, who was very apologetic. 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 always stripped it out.”
“Falwell’s accountant said, “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. 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.”
So, the avuncular Southern Baptist minister was “stripping out” his church’s bank account at the end of the month, which might dismay his supporters. Trying to peddle forgiveness for that down transgression down the aisles at Liberty Baptist was an appealing vision.
When I eventually confronted Hilliardin 2004, he testily confirmed the loan to Falwell. Asked to confirm the amount he’d loaned the Baptist minister, he said: “More than I want to tell you about.”
“Did Falwell pay you back?”
“He paid some of it back.”
Flight school owner Wally Hilliard wasn’t even a Baptist. He had, in fact, at some pint become a Mormon deacon. The only conclusion I could draw was there must be some non-religious, still-secret association between the two men.
Could Falwell’s association with the so-called “Committee of 100” which steered Republican propaganda efforts during the 1990’s be the answer?
Falwell had produced ‘The Clinton Chronicles’ in 1994, seeking to implicate then-President Clinton in the Mena cocaine-smuggling conspiracy.
Hilliard was a self-professed rabid anti-communist. The Wisconsin-based health insurance company he founded had an unusual corporate motto: “Hate Sin, Fight Communism, and Back the Pack!”
I asked Hilliard’s Naples flight manager, Danielle Clarke, about Hilliard. Clarke was a British aviatrix who came to Florida after her British pilot husband died.
She snorted at Hilliard’s attempt at portraying a “pious man.”
“Wally seemed very compassionate, made a lot of references to God,” she said. “You’d be talking about business; then all of a sudden he’d mention the ‘Good Lord.’”
She waved a hand dismissively. “It got to be a bit much.”
Adding a Russian to the mix
“Then one day we heard Stuart was going to Russia, that he’d found someone on the Internet. And I’ll never forget the day he came back with his new bride. She was a very spectacular looking woman, the beautiful daughter of a Russian shot-put champion. She was about 6’3” and looked like Bridget Nielson, Sly Stallone’s ex.”
Danielle said tartly, “And Stuart is rather slight, you know. For a while he was at some risk of domestic violence.”
“Stuart went from living in a little rinky-dink apartment to a brand new million-dollar home, with all new furniture, maids, the whole bit.”
An aviation executive in Venice confirmed the report. “The KGB was around Hilliard’s operation. I don’t know why they were there, but I know that Hilliard knew they were there. And not just the KGB, there were individuals who flew for the Israeli military who were there at the Venice airport.”
As if there weren’t already enough intrigue, an aviation observer in Lynchburg told me, “Jerry Falwell got bailed out in the early ‘90’s by a local Lynchburg businessman with interesting associations. Since then Falwell runs a missionary service called World Help, which flies all over the world.”
Strangely, this is not Jerry Falwell Sr’s only link to covert activity at the tiny Venice, FL airport. But that’s a story for another time.
The drive to remove Jerry Falwell Jr. comes in the wake of exposés by Politico, The Miami Herald and other news outlets accused Falwell of using the influential and ultra-conservative Christian college to enrich himself and his cronies.
An activist Christian group has launched a petition drive to get the Virginia Attorney General’s office and the IRS to open criminal investigations into
Is there something more than general disgust at his self-dealing and hypocricy behind the current effort to remove Jerry Falwell Jr?
Some of it may be political. Politico documented how Falwell Junior president of Liberty University, a staunch conservative and Trump supporter, tried to shift the academic calendar so his student body, which is largely right-leaning, would be around to influence local elections.
Falwell is also alleged to have engaged in activities that run counter to the Christian college’s ethos, including sharing photos of his wife, Becki, in French maid costume with employees, graphically describing their sex life, and drinking and dancing in Miami Beach nightspots, a big no-no at Liberty University, which bans dancing.
What can be stated with some certainty is this:
After years of stories involving the Falwells and handsome young strangers, weird financial investments, gay-friendly hostels, decadent resorts, lawsuits, and racy photos… not to mention Michael Cohen, the current trials and tribulations of modern day Pharisee Jerry Falwell, Jr. represent something more consequential than a violation of Liberty’s no-dancing policy.