Secret Drug Operations: Millions Paid to Exploit Aviation Rules – Cartels (Use) U.S. Airplanes to Transport Narcotics Into America

Newsblaze Global Narcotic Trafficking  Investigation Series

Deep into the piney shores near East Texas Lake is a rural town called Onalaska. Located in the heartland of Polk County, 90 miles above Houston, Onalaska is situated on a peninsula between the main channel that is attached to one arm of Lake Livingston. A town with only one Sonic drive-in, and more RV parks and marinas than hotels, the population in Onalaska (in 2019) was estimated at or less than 2,967 inhabitants.

Although this small East Texas town, once widely known as a farming and logging community, doesn’t have a single airport, there are more airplanes registered with a P.O box in Onalaska – than the number of registered airplanes in big major cities such as Dallas, Seattle, San Antonio, San Diego, or even New York.

What raises suspicion is that not only are the aircrafts’ registered to P.O. Boxes. But the owners of the airplanes don’t live in Onalaska at all! Investigators identified Aircraft Guaranty Corporation Trustee as the Texas-Oklahoma based company that registered over 1000 airplanes to two separate P.O. Boxes in Onalaska.

So what’s happening here, with all these airplanes parked discreetly in hangars that outnumber the citizens residing in this sleepy East Texas town?

An investigation by WFAA TV Station and the Boston Globe including first-hand knowledge by the author of this story(Clarence Walker) who is also a Houston-based private investigator concluded that places like Onalaska, Dallas, Oklahoma, Florida, Nevada, and Delaware are a hotbed of lucrative money-making activities that allows foreign nationals to buy and register airplanes through American corporations, reputable banks,and trust companies, including the use of aircraft title companies that, in turn, and indirectly allows foreigners involved with narcotic and possible terrorist activities to be the real owner of aircrafts’ that is often used for major crimes.

As part of an ongoing probe into the questionable practices of corporations registering foreign aircraft, private investigator Clarence Walker has contacted several aircraft registration trustee companies regarding whether their company complies with the new rules, requiring more stringent documentation of foreign individuals who buy and register airplanes. Company officials explained that they always carefully utilize a strict vetting process before registering any aircraft.

Foreigners who utilize aircraft services and corporations to register purchases of leased airplanes is a common practice, a practice that makes the United States a breeding ground for drug dealers, terrorists, and other criminals to buy and register airplanes undetected without having to reveal who they are. The scheme is so clever until criminals in many cases used fictitious names on pilot licenses.

“Under U.S. law, I can register a plane as a U.S. citizen,” says Tanya Eiserer, investigative reporter at WFAA Television, the ABC affiliate in Dallas. “A permanent resident can register a plane directly with the FAA(Federal Aviation Administration). “But if you’re a foreigner, or also corporations, { you} can transfer a title into a trust, and then they can register the plane.” Eiserer said the reason so many airplanes are registered in Onalaska has more to do with how foreign nationals are able to own aircraft in the U.S.

Evidence presented in this exclusive story will explain why many foreign nationals register airplanes and luxury jets this specific way. “This is a way to cloak identity. There are going to be nefarious characters; drug dealers and terrorists, who are going to try to use this as a mechanism to register their planes,” Eiserer reported in her story for WFAA.

Editor’s Note: None of the aircraft registration companies or U.S. based corporations mentioned in this story nor their employees or U.S. officials have been charged or implicated directly with any crimes involving airplanes transporting illegal drugs and other assorted contraband).

Concealing True Ownership

An aircraft expert spoke to WFAA TV reporter Tanya Eiserer. “When you conceal the true ownership of a plane, you’re putting a lot of people in jeopardy,” said Joe Gutheinz, a former Federal Aviation Administration special agent. “If you’re a terrorist and you have a way of concealing your secret ownership of a plane in the United States, you’re going to do it.”

By all means, the 911 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center in New York should serve as a painful reminder for government aviation officials to maintain tight control of accurate aircraft ownership records considering how easy it was for Islamic terrorists to weaponize airplanes to crash into the Twin Towers. And with the lax oversight of aircraft ownership, the critics of aviation rules insist that a terrorist can easily conceal his identity and use a corporation to register an airplane for an attack against Americans.

Terrorists aside, questionable ownership of U.S. airplanes and charter jets that are registered under the umbrella of various corporations, corporations that may or may not have true documentation of ownership of an aircraft or even the true name(s) of foreign pilots flying these aircraft, actually opens a wide window into the netherworld. This may be how the constant flow of hundreds of metric tons of cocaine are transported into America from South and Central America; dope-connected countries like Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Mexico, Brazil, China, Eastern Europe, Belize, Guatemala, and Venezuela.

“People can use layers of secrecy to register their aircraft,” Boston Globe reporter Jaimi Dowdell told CBS news. Dowdell said those layers of secrecy are really attractive to drug dealers, criminals, and corrupt politicians, including people with “potential ties to terrorism.”

Carlos Vasquez, a Florida aircraft employee with Eagle Support Corporation, told Miami Times-News that even under American Law, “to buy an aircraft doesn’t require a lot of screening.”

“It’s really hard for us to spot who is who,” Vasquez said, explaining that traffickers, “build shell companies or use intermediaries to create an air of legitimacy.” Vasquez further said when drug dealers or anyone involved with criminal enterprises use lawyers, escrow accounts, and corporate anonymity “[that] makes it difficult for brokers to know exactly who their customers are.”

The Globe reporters also discovered to their utter amazement that two of the airplanes used in the 911 attacks were still listed active until 2005!

Onalaska Connection

Onalaska residents didn’t realize so many airplanes were registered in their peaceful town.

“The majority of the people that live here permanently in Onalaska can’t afford a plane,” real estate agent, Zachary Davis told WFAA TV.

“What’s the catch to this?” asked former Onalaska mayor Roy Newport. “What would be the advantage of listing them (airplanes) here?”

The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) officials told news media organizations WFAA television, CBS and Boston Globe that large corporations and foreign partnerships need to use trusts to register aircraft due to the FAA’s strict citizenship requirements.

As mentioned in the story, the process works this way: to register a plane, owners must be an American citizen or a permanent resident. The FAA does allow foreigners to register their planes by transferring the title to a U.S. trustee.

How much does it cost to register an airplane with the FAA?

Just $5!

It is not illegal for corporations to register charter planes or jets for foreign business associates. Many foreigners purchase airplanes and jets from American-based companies to use for legitimate business. It is illegal for a foreigner or U.S. citizen to use aircraft for illegal purposes but the weird part is: Until a recent proposed new law came up in Congress there were no requirements for foreigners to reveal the true identity of who they were when paying a company to register an airplane that later was either used in dope smuggling, flying terrorist groups to designated locations or to transport dirty money, explosives, and guns.

There’s an axiom that says – if the stakes are high there’s corruption, and mixed in between, is the greatest seducer of all: money!

onalaska photo
Welcome to Onalaska

Who’s Making the Money?

Who is making the money by allowing foreigners with criminal intent to register airplanes through legitimate U.S. based connections in the aircraft industry?

If a money trail can be found. The trail of money will tell the story.

American-based shell companies, airplane brokers, corporations and trust companies that lease or sell airplanes and charter jets earn “hundreds of millions of dollars” from foreigners who need to use aircraft for overseas business.

The FAA was warned as far back as 2009 that drug cartels and suspected terrorists were hiding behind their true identities by using American-based trust companies to register charter jets and other types of aircraft because foreigners alone cannot buy airplanes in America.

Stephen Lynch. official US Congress photo.
Stephen Lynch. official US Congress photo.

“These are very serious national security risks posed by the current aircraft registration system, which leaves us vulnerable to smuggling and illicit activity by criminals, and possibly terrorism,” said U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts. Lynch has worked tirelessly on the front lines in Congress to force aircraft companies to provide more transparency of whom they’re doing business with.

Aviation critics have told investigators the FAA must close the loopholes in their registration system that make it easy for shady characters to exploit because the aircraft registration is bogged down into a tangled and ungoverned network of trusts, Delaware corporations, P.O. Boxes, title companies, including smaller home-based companies. A home in Georgia has over 200 registered airplanes.

Paper Trail

Where is the paperwork showing who are the real owners and what are the aircraft used for?

Here is a classic example of terrible oversight:

Three airplanes were illegally registered in the name of a Mexican national who falsely claimed to be an American citizen. This guy easily tricked the FAA by listing a Texas strip mall near the Mexican border as his permanent address.

What if the man had been purchasing the airplanes for terrorists?

This where readers should see the scope of the problem in the aviation industry.

Fear of another horrendous strike similar to the 911 terrorist attacks on American soil, lead Congress members Lynch, Peter King and Carolyn Maloney, both of New York, to file the Aircraft Ownership Transparency Legislation Act in (2017). The law stipulates that the true identity of foreign aircraft owners must be on file with the FAA.

Identification

FAA must require foreign owners to disclose:

    • Name
    • Verified pilot license with photo
    • Verified fingerprints
    • Reveal nationality
    • Address
    • Passport

These details must be given before the agency can issue a certificate of U.S. registration. Trustees, aircraft registration companies, corporations and even banks are required under the law to turn over the information of foreigners who are either buying or leasing airplanes within 48 hours of purchase. The full effects of the law should happen during this year of 2020.

“Just tell us who owns these aircraft,” Lynch said. “They could easily be turned into weapons.”

Airplanes registered to a U.S. trust carry an “N” tail number. The tail numbers on a U.S. registered airplane carry big advantages because U.S. planes don’t attract as much attention as a plane carrying a tail number from a different country. If those numbers weren’t listed on the fantails, crossing the borders wouldn’t be easy.

Drug Cartels use CIA-connected Airplanes

crashed-plane. image by Mexico Press Office
Previous Owned CIA Airplane Crash in Mexico in 2007 With Between 3-6 tons of Cocaine: Mexico Press Office

The biggest scandal in the aircraft drug trafficking business happened on September 24, 2007, when a CIA-connected U.S. registered Gulfstream II with tail number #N987SA crashed in the Mexican jungle near Yucatan Mexico loaded with between “3 and 6” tons of cocaine, according to Reuters news service and writer and the owner of Mad Cow Morning News website Daniel Hopsicker. Hopsicker further reported the CIA had previously used the plane for “extraordinary rendition” to Guantanamo Bay. A McClatchy news report confirmed the same story.

FAA records showed the Gulfstream was sold multiple times before the crash, and that the plane was actually owned by notorious drug lord Joaquin El Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel when it crashed with the narcotics onboard which, in essence, doesn’t prove CIA involvement with drug smuggling.

Yet the developments of a DEA and FBI paper trail related to the Gulfstream’s activities revealed the inner-workings of how aircraft companies owned by wealthy businessmen and silent investors help to keep the dope business making billions and billions.

The pilots of the plane were identified as Edik Munoz Sanchez and co-pilot Omar Alfredo. Hopsicker said Wikipedia used to mention the story on its page about the CIA airplane, questioning how it wound up into the hands of cartels. All references to the cocaine crash were removed in October 2016, with the claim – “The McClatchy article(about the incident) should be good, yet it cites Hopsicker’s website for its information.”

FAA records showed Donna Blue Aircraft Inc, owned the former CIA Gulfstream II airplane that crashed in 2007 – in Mexico, stuffed with tons of cocaine.

When reporters visited Donna Blue Aircraft Inc. in Coconut Beach, Florida, they were shocked to find an empty office suite with no ownership identification. Adding to the mystery surrounding the reporters’ inquiry into the aircraft the listed phone number for the company (415-555-555) was inoperable. With reporters smelling the blood of a great story they hurried over to a second address for the company at the Florida Department Corporation in Coconut Beach located at 4811 Lyons Technology Parkway. #8. To their dismay, there was no sign of the owner(s) – that owned the crashed CIA airplane.

A Mexico newspaper and their reporters who are aware of those in the drug trade that pay off American-based aircraft companies to use airplanes to smuggle dope, described Donna Blue Aircraft as another dummy company that caters to criminal individuals and drug trafficking organizations.

“The proprietary company of the unit, Donna Blue Aircraft (DBA), is another mystery and it’s probably a ghost company,” reported La Reforma.

CIA Operations

plane crash mexico. Source Mexico Press News
Previously Owned CIA Airplane Crashed in Mexico in 2007 With Between 3-6 Tons of Cocaine Aboard Stuffed in Black Bags.. Source Mexico Press News

According to Hopsicker’s heavily documented investigative reporting, the same aircraft, under tail number# (N987SA) had been used to deliver terrorist prisoners to Guantanamo Bay, and that log records showed the Gulfstream II flew to Guantanamo Bay from Washington D.C. twice and from Oxford, Connecticut, once. Wikipedia suggested that “likely the purpose of these flights was to ferry CIA and Pentagon interrogators to Guantanamo to question detainees.”

On April 16, 2005, the same airplane was seen in Arkansas. A long paper trail showed the CIA previously owned airplane passed through the hands of Air Rutter International, a thoroughbred horse owner, then sold to Donna Blue Aircraft, a Florida-based front company, owned by two dubious Brazilian nationals.

On September, 16, 2006, the Gulfstream was sold for $2 million to Powell Aircraft Title, owned by two Americans identified as Clyde O’ Connor and Greg Smith, although, at the time, the FAA reported they had not received the exchange of ownership paperwork. Federal investigators subsequently proved that money from the trust company, Powell Aircraft Title was used to acquire the aircraft for drug trafficker Pedro Antonio “The Architect” Bermudez-Suaza.

So the ten-million dollar question is: How did a previously owned CIA airplane fall into the hands of Drug Cartel Organizations?

Simple answer: shady American-based aircraft companies and corporations make it happen by acting as a front for the anonymous wealthy traffickers who need aircraft to transport drugs from overseas into Mexico, and from Mexico, into the United States.

Aviation School Owner Who Trained 9/11 Terrorists And used Airplanes to Transport Narcotics Busted in Houston on Drug Trafficking Charges

Here is another story revealing how( hidden) dirty hands work behind the scenes to keep the drugs flying across the skies from overseas into America.

Meet Rudi Dekkers

Rudi Dekkers, prior owner of Huffman Aviation Flight School, in Venice, Florida that unwittingly trained 9/11 terrorist attackers Mohammed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, was arrested in Houston, Texas – on December 2, 2012. Homeland Security agents collared Dekker after they cold-busted the aviation expert with a rolling suitcase full of cocaine and heroin. Dekkers, a Danish national, came to the attention of law enforcement when Homeland Security agent Michael Gonzales was introduced to Dekkers by Arturo Astorquiza.

Agent Gonzales had been investigating Astorquiza, one of the key players in an international drug trafficking ring, which specialized in transporting cocaine into the country. Dekkers flew to Houston from Florida to do the narcotic deal.

According to the complaint, Dekkers boasted when he told the agent, “he was involved in narcotics transportation by private aircraft and that he had flown narcotics and U.S. currency previously without any problems.” Agents placed Dekkers under 24-hour surveillance and followed him to Flight School Inc, at 21904 Northwest Freeway in Cypress, Texas. Cypress is a smaller town that is part of Houston/Harris
County. When agents saw Dekkers with the suitcases at another flight school with two other men the agents pounced, arresting the suspects immediately.

Federal authorities charged Dekkers with intent to distribute more than one-hundred grams of heroin including possession with intent to distribute more than five kilos of cocaine. The penalty carried up to life in prison without parole.

Dekkers said his prosperous life fell apart when he unknowingly allowed two 9/11 terrorists to take paid flying lessons at his school in Venice to prepare for their terrorist attack on American soil. Mohameed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi hijacked two commercial jets and crashed them into the World Trade Center, killing over 3000 people, in one of the deadliest attacks to happen in the United States.

Dekkers once angrily said, “Everywhere I come, they say, ‘Are you not that guy that trained terrorists?'” Dekkers told a Herald-Tribune reporter in 2005. Dekkers, reportedly worth over $12 million, wrote a book titled Guilty by Association. There are no court records to show what happened with Dekkers drug case because on February 7, 2013, a federal judge in Houston issued an “Order to Sealed Motion.”

(Editor’s Note: Author of this story and investigator Clarence Walker has conducted hours of research over a period of months to determine the outcome of Dekkers case but there are no records showing whether Dekkers went to prison).

cocaine in black bags. Distributed by Mexico Foreign Press
Sinaloa Cartel Used Previously Owned CIA airplane that Crashed in Mexico in 2007 with Between 3-6 thousands of Cocaine Aboard Stuffed in Black Bags. Mexico Photo Distributed by Mexico Foreign Press

DEA Tracks U.S. Airplanes

Investigation records show that at least a quarter of the 100 aircraft seized by(DEA) Drug Enforcement Agents since 2013, were used for transporting illegal drugs by foreigners and even American-based major dope dealers. These same aircraft were registered by shell corporations which provided foreigners the opportunity to hide their identities.

Also between 2013-2019, an audit conducted by the Office of Inspector General(OIG) estimated that over 5,600 airplanes “lacked key information about true ownership.” A review of five major trust companies with the majority registrations on file, federal investigators discovered the companies “could not or would not provide” the identities of three of four foreign owners requested.

“Without collecting and maintaining complete and accurate aircraft data, FAA increases the risk of not meeting its aviation safety mission,” the OIG audit found.

Trust company officials told WFAA media and law enforcement investigators that they use “due diligence” when vetting owners to ensure they are reputable.

Political officials, FBI, Homeland Security, and DEA(Drug Enforcement Administration) agents who are familiar with the way drug dealers and terrorists discreetly operate disagree with the FAA vetting process. Government officials say there’s scant information readily available in the FAA registry, thus allowing foreigners to shield their true ownership from law enforcement.

“We shouldn’t require more information to register a car than to register an aircraft,” U.S. Rep. Lynch told WFAA TV. “If you’re a foreign national you can register an aircraft here and the government doesn’t know anything about it. Come on. It’s laughable.”

Lax Oversight

Responding to heavy criticism over lax oversight of registering aircraft for untraceable foreigners the FAA authorities said during interviews with federal investigators that they are developing strategic plans to closely monitor their Oklahoma City-based, Civil Aviation Registry, Aircraft Guaranty. Aircraft Guaranty is the link between the 1000 airplanes in Onalaska.

Aircraft Guaranty certifies and monitors more than 300,000 U.S. registered airplanes. Aircraft Guaranty admitted to investigators they don’t have the manpower to investigate whether the information provided by aircraft owners is “one-hundred percent accurate.”

Lynch insisted the public must know whether there are “potential terrorists among the thousands of unknown individuals who control U.S. registered planes.”

FAA Woes

Harry Schaefer, former director of investigative programs for the U.S. Department of Transportation said he wasn’t impressed by the FAA’s commitment to better control their registration of American aircraft.

“It is uncontrolled,” said Schaefer, who retired in 2006. “It’s gotten so far out of hand that they don’t know how to wrap their arms around it.”

The crux of the burgeoning problem is the undeniable fact that, for decades, foreign nationals exploited loopholes in the Civil Aviation Registry without revealing a trace as to who they are.

As stated, only U.S. citizens are allowed to register a plane in this country but the FAA allows foreigners to register aircraft as long as a U.S. citizen represents them. With the FAA allowing this practice the true names of foreign aircraft owners aren’t listed on registration papers, making it difficult for investigators to track down an unknown foreigner when something bad happens with an airplane or chartered jet.

Obscured Identity

For example, when a registered airplane full of drugs, driven by a large-scale drug trafficker crashed into a home in Venezuela in 2008, killing several people,
including children, law enforcement officials were unable to find the owner.

During a follow-up investigation, the U.S. federal and foreign officials discovered the plane was registered to Texas-based Aircraft Guaranty. Aircraft Guaranty told investigators the real owner was in Miami.

A private investigator working for the law firm representing the people whose house was destroyed discovered when he visited the Miami address that not a single individual lived at the location. Unable to find the culprit prevented the Venezuela nationals from suing to recoup compensation for the loss of their loved ones that were killed in the
crash.

Foreigners with criminal intent who prefer to obscure their identity when buying or leasing an airplane often use shell companies throughout the United States that outright allow aircraft owners to hide their identities, particularly shell companies in Delaware.

Case in point: Venezuelan air force shot down a U.S. registered plane loaded with cocaine in 2015 off the coast of Aruba. FAA records proved the airplane was registered to a Delaware shell company managed by an elderly Florida lawyer in Fort Lauderdale who consistently opposed Congress plans to pass the Aircraft Transparency Law.

Department of Transportation(DOT) cited a case with terrorism ties, according to Rep. Lynch.

In 2006, a U.S. bank became a trustee for an aircraft given to a Lebanese politician who eventually proved to be “backed by a well-known U.S. Government-designated terrorist organization,” the DOT report said. “It wasn’t until the bank found later that the group in question were affiliated with Hezbollah that the relationship ended,” Lynch said.

Then, in 2012, an FAA inspector was unable to determine who was flying a Boeing 737 registered on behalf of a foreign owner. When the FAA contacted the owner, they were told the airplane had been leased to a United Arab Emirates-based rental company and that the foreign owner couldn’t provide the inspector with information about who was flying the plane.

“It is absolutely making America less safe,” Joe Gutheinz told a WFAA reporter(after) reading the DOT report.

Guatemala Political Link

roxana baldetti
Former Guatemala Vice President Roxana Baldetti has Been indicted on Drug Charges in the U.S. She often jetted around in a U.S. registered Raytheon 400 airplane. Public Domain photo.

Indicted on U.S. Drug Trafficking Charges, Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti used American-registered airplanes.

Oklahoma-Texas based Aircraft Guaranty became the focus of another DEA operation when federal prosecutors indicted former Guatemalan Vice President Roxanna Baldetti on multiple drug charges. Around 2013, investigators targeted Baldetti’s activities in the drug world when Guatemalan newspaper El Periodico published exclusive details of Baldetti’s purchases of multi-million dollar homes and other unexplained wealth.

Details of El Periodico’s report indicated Baldetti owned five properties including a helicopter worth over $13 million. Baldetti resigned her post as Vice President of Guatemala on May 8, 2015, after a UN anti-corruption probe resulted in 24 people arrested, including Baldetti, and her secretary. Baldetti often jetted around in a Raytheon 400A.

FAA records proved the Raytheon Jet owned by Baldetti was registered to Aircraft Guaranty on behalf of a Panamanian company identified as Best Advisors Group incorporated. On October 9, 2018, Baldetti was sentenced to 15 1/2 years in a Guatemala prison on fraud charges related to improper issuance of government contracts. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is seeking Baldetti’s extradition to Washington D.C. on drug charges, charges for conspiring to distribute five or more kilos of cocaine.

News Media Investigations

During recent years the U.S. based news media investigations uncovered a disturbing trend of questionable oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration(FAA). The FAA oversight of registering aircraft on many occasions paved an easy road for solo drug dealers, drug trafficking cartels, corrupt politicians, shady foreigners, and people with direct ties to terrorism, allowing these groups to register private planes which in turn can easily conceal the identities of those registering aircraft.

Aided by U.S. FAA rules, a jet or airplane is usually identified by a number on the “tail fin” of a particular aircraft beginning with the letter “N” – the aircraft owner enjoys covert protection from prying eyes juxtaposed with anonymity while traveling through cloudy skies. This covert protection has allowed criminals and foreign government officials for many years to hide assorted illicit activities.

Thousands of airplanes have been officially linked to the drug trade within the last two decades, and more likely, many aircraft were purchased with laundered dope money either from brokers or the manufacturer. “Is law enforcement monitoring that?” asked Julie Bunck, in a Miami Times News story. “They ought to be if they’re not.” Bunck once served as a political science professor at the University of Louisville. Bunck co-wrote a book about the drug trade titled, “Bribes, Bullets, and Intimidation: Drug Trafficking and the Law in Central America.”

areas of transnational gang influence. DEA image.
areas of transnational gang influence. DEA image.

Colombian Kingpins Monopolize Cocaine Smuggling Using Luxury Airplanes, Lear Jets

During the 1970’s, Medellin Cartel top leader Carlos Ledher monopolized the smuggling of cocaine using airplanes and lear jets. Lehder and the notorious Pablo Escobar worked as a team to traffic cocaine into America. Ledher opened air routes into the Bahamas and even purchased an island to load cocaine and offload cash earned from the illegal trade. Investigators and Mexican police concluded through long-term investigations how Mexico Sinaloa Cartel leader Joquin “El Chapo” Guzman owned a fleet of planes, outnumbering the planes owned by the largest airlines in Mexico, according to the Mexico newspaper El Universal.

On October 13, 2017, San Diego airplane broker Vicente Contreras-Amezquita was given 60 months in federal prison for selling Cessna airplanes to Mexico dope traffickers. Federal prosecutors said Contreras-Amezquita spent millions in cash proceeds for the purchase of at least 35 airplanes for export to Mexico. Cessna 206s and 210s are preferred by Mexico drug trafficking organizations because the Cessnas can carry heavy loads of dope and guns over long distances.

“This sentence is a reminder that those who launder money for drug traffickers are committing a serious crime,” said then-San Diego DEA Special Agent-in-Charge William R. Sherman.

Government Sold Planes To Traffickers

Emblematic of the problem within the government’s careless handling of registering airplanes there are two incidents whereupon the U.S. government confiscated drug-carrying airplanes and resold them to convicted felons; one of the buyers was involved in the Florida drug trade in the 90’s – and the second felon previously made wild, unsubstantiated claims that he smuggled dope for the CIA.

Critics rightfully pointed out that since the U.S. government seized a known dope trafficking airplane and resold it to convicted felons who returned the plane to the drug trade, it is like “firemen starting fires,” said Paul Gootenberg. Gootenberg is a history professor at New York’s Stony Brook University.

So now the poignant question focuses on the following question: if the government sold confiscated dope-connected airplanes back to drug dealers, how can the government expect private firms to be more forthcoming with ownership information about airplanes often used for trafficking illegal narcotics.

Law Enforcement ID Dope Trafficking Airplanes Registered by FAA

American officials and the public at large will only learn of the enormous gaps in U.S. oversight of aircraft registration when a catastrophic event happens and the aftermath often proves that a jet or plane is registered to unscrupulous characters.

For example:

  • Venezuelan Air Force shot down the U.S. registered, drug-loaded plane near the Aruban region in 2015. The devastation of the crash littered the pretty blue sea with bloated bodies and pure cocaine. Records showed the aircraft was registered to a Delaware Shell Company, managed by the previously mentioned Fort Lauderdale attorney.
  • Last year in 2019, federal authorities identified Venezuela’s Vice President Tareck El Aissiani as a Foreign Narcotic Kingpin. The feds filed a legal hold on El Aissiani’s expensive assets including a luxury jet. The Treasury Department alleged the jet had been FAA registered in the name of a shell company and that the jet undoubtedly had been controlled by El Aissiani. Federal authorities also accused El Assiani of aiding Islamic extremists. Despite these flashing red flags within the FAA registration system, El Aissiani’s jet remains valid in the name of 200G PSA Holdings, according to the Boston Globe.
  • Four Gulfstream Jets belonging to Jorge Reynoso, the manager-turned-husband of Puerto Rican “pop” star Noelia got snared in a complex web involving an International drug scandal. In 2012, the Venezuelan government seized a Gulfstream II from Elite Jet Group, a company Reynoso was also connected with. Reynoso listed the company’s address at a UPS store at 65th Street and Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, Florida. News media articles published stories indicating that Reynoso, an airplane seller, claimed that (he) and Noelia were duped into a high-level extortion plot orchestrated by the Venezuelan government.

Reynoso explained during news media interviews how he was told to send the Gulfstream to the city of “Punto Fijo” – near Aruba – and that he was “promised to be paid in cash in Panama,” Reynoso told Miami News Times in Florida.

“I said no, no f…ing way. If you guys dare to take that plane; I will call CNN.”

Venezuelan authorities offered a different version to Noticias 24, a Venezuelan news site. According to Noticias, on January 19, 2013, the article; authorities said Reynoso’s plane had been flown to Caracas to be sold to Colombian drug lord Daniel “El loco” Barrera. El Loco had been arrested in Venezuela in 2012 on drug trafficking charges. Reynoso vehemently denied his intent to sell his plane to El Loco.

Reynoso’s airplanes ran afoul of narcotic officers again, in September 2013, when DEA seized a Gulfstream II that Reynoso owned through a Nevada company identified as “One Air Title LLC.” Later Reynoso said he’d experienced foul play when DEA agents seized the jet in St. Petersburg after a sale went down the tubes between Reynoso and suspected dope traffickers.

seal of the faa
Seal of the FAA

Tracking Aircraft Sales

In efforts to seize an airplane registered to Aircraft Guaranty, Federal law enforcement agents detailed the following in court records:

Registered in a trust in 2012, the airplane belonged to a Mexico-based company. The company’s legal representative, Fausto Velez Urbina was convicted in 2005 of federal cocaine trafficking charges and subsequently deported to Mexico in 2010.

Records showed that Urbina bought the plane from an Aircraft broker identified as Mauricio DeLeon for $1.69 million. What merged into the bigger picture was the fact DeLeon had been positively linked to Gulf Cartel drug leader Osiel Cardenas-Guillen.

DEA and court records show that Cardenas-Guillen also founded the extreme violent Los Zetas drug syndicate. Former military commandos worked as brutal assassins for the cartel. Reynoso’s Gulfstream II wasn’t the only executive jet seized by narcotic agents and then subsequently transferred to an ex-convict.

Around August 2009, another Learjet with tail number# N21NW – landed at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport from North Carolina’s Wilmington International Airport. Packed inside the jet was at least “300 kilos” of cocaine from Venezuela, according to a March 4, 2012 affidavit by Homeland Security Agent Albert Ordonez.

Court records show that during mid-2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized the same airplane with tail number# N21NW from a Delaware Company called “One Way Jet LLC.” In March 2012, CEO of “One Way” Paul Cordoba was charged in the U.S. District Court of Southern Florida with drug trafficking. Then, in September 2011, the U.S. Treasury Department sold the seized Learjet at auction for $100,000. FAA records showed the plane transferred from “One Way Jet” to a Lincoln Investment Holdings incorporated in Delaware.

Who Owned Starwood Management, Lincoln Holdings?

When federal agents seized one of Lincoln’s planes in January 2014, prosecutors in Tyler Texas alleged Lincoln Investment Holdings and Starwood Management were secretly controlled by Mexican National Christine Esquino. Esquino was convicted of cocaine trafficking in Florida during the ’90s.

When the feds filed information to seize the planes owned by Lincoln Holdings they stated in court records that foreign nationals aren’t allowed to own American airplanes. Esquino’s name was embroiled in another scandal when a Starwood Jet crashed into a mountain in Mexico, killing Mexican American superstar singer Jenni Rivera. Esquino told the Associated Press the DEA has been watching him for many years.

Still, the dominant question persists: How did Lincoln Investment Holdings, operated by a convicted drug trafficker, obtain a Learjet from the feds without raising an eyebrow. This cynical aspect of the story remains unclear.

Colombian Drug Kingpins Collaborate

Colombian drug kingpins, Dicson Penagos-Casanova, and Juan Gabriel Rios-Sierra joined forces to supply multiple cartels by transporting cocaine into the U.S., federal prosecutors alleged in indictments against the pair. FAA records showed the aircraft’s tail number N214FW was owned in a Delaware trust by Dinama Aircorp Inc. Dinama is owned by a Fort Lauderdale attorney previously mentioned in this story.

Before the seizure of the plane in 2013, the Florida attorney who owned the trust (that registered the airplane) had sent an email to FAA opposing their efforts to make airplane ownership more transparent. There are over 200 other airplanes registered to Dinama Air Inc.

Penagos-Casanova and Rios Sera were desperate to keep illegal drugs flowing into the U.S. when they purchased a second drug-loaded airplane that eventually crashed into the Caribbean sea in 2015 due to engine failure. Between both recovered planes, authorities recovered over $70 million worth of cocaine.

Both dope traffickers pled guilty in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to conspiracy to possess cocaine onboard a U.S. registered aircraft with the intent to distribute. The associated Fort Lauderdale attorney also owned Delaware based Secure Aircorp Inc. Secure Aircorp owned the Gulfstream American II Jet, seized in 2014, by the Dominican Republic, FAA records showed.

DEA Seizure

DEA seized a plane after agents discovered 560 pounds of meth in a storage unit in Santa Rosa, California. Australian authorities said the substance, typically known as “ice” was destined for their country with a street value estimated at $225 million. FAA records indicated the registered owner of the plane was TVPX Aircraft Solutions in Concord Maine (U.S.). TVPX Solutions acted as the trustee for a foreign owner.

Australian police and DEA identified the foreign owner as 72-year-old Australian Hugh John Gorman. In July 2017, Gorman was finally arrested at Melbourne Airport and charged with conspiracy to import a controlled substance. Sydney residents Jim Soukoulis, and Peter Caluzzi, also from Melbourne were arrested and faced similar charges leveled against Gorman.

dea ice seizure. DEA photo.
$255 million of the drug Ice was seized in California and Destined by Airplane to Australia. Three Men Charged. Source: DEA

A Los Angeles, California based DEA agent who investigated dope-related aircraft told news reporters with the Boston Globe that the dummy ownership makes it harder for him to draw a direct connection “between drug dealers and their products.” The agent said if he couldn’t prove “who owned the aircraft or whose name was on the registration paperwork received money to knowingly and intentionally purchase a vessel in a drug transaction, then almost always there is no prosecution,” said the anonymous agent.

Who knows there may be more dangerous people in control of airplanes from the United States whose names haven’t been revealed yet.

“It’s all about the bottom line, the dollar for the trust companies,” Rep. Lynch told WFAA TV. “They are bargaining away and exploiting the laws that are in existence in our country for their private financial gain. But they are putting the public and national security at dire risk.”

Does anyone have secret intelligence of suspicious U.S. registered airplanes being used for drug smuggling or other illegal activities? Private investigator and Newsblaze crime series journalist Clarence Walker needs to talk with you. All information will be kept confidential. Send information to: [email protected]

As an analyst and researcher for the PI industry and a business consultant, Clarence Walker is a veteran writer, crime reporter and investigative journalist. He began his writing career with New York-based True Crime Magazines in Houston Texas in 1983, publishing more than 300 feature stories. He wrote for the Houston Chronicle (This Week Neighborhood News and Op-Eds) including freelancing for Houston Forward Times.

Working as a paralegal for a reputable law firm, he wrote for National Law Journal, a publication devoted to legal issues and major court decisions. As a journalist writing for internet publishers, Walker’s work can be found at American Mafia.com, Gangster Inc., Drug War Chronicle, Drug War101 and Alternet.

Six of Walker’s crime articles were re-published into a paperback series published by Pinnacle Books. One book titled: Crimes Of The Rich And Famous, edited by Rose Mandelsburg, garnered considerable favorable ratings. Gale Publisher also re-published a story into its paperback series that he wrote about the Mob: Is the Mafia Still a Force in America?

Meanwhile this dedicated journalist wrote criminal justice issues and crime pieces for John Walsh’s America’s Most Wanted Crime Magazine, a companion to Walsh blockbuster AMW show. If not working PI cases and providing business intelligence to business owners, Walker operates a writing service for clients, then serves as a crime historian guest for the Houston-based Channel 11TV show called the “Cold Case Murder Series” hosted by reporter Jeff McShan.

At NewsBlaze, Clarence Walker expands his writing abilities to include politics, human interest and world events.

Clarence Walker can be reached at: [email protected]