Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Posada Carriles may have to find another ride

Here's the Hawker 700. Photo credit: World Jet Inc.

Luis Posada Carriles had planned to travel to his upcoming trial in El Paso aboard a British-made jet known as a Hawker 700.
But those plans have changed because the corporate jet is undergoing maintenance, said Arturo V. Hernandez, one of the defendant's lawyers.
A court document filed Jan. 11 said that a man named Alberto Herreros owned the Hawker 700 and had agreed to pay for Posada Carriles' trip.
I posted that document on Jan. 18. Two days later, Canadian journalist Jean-Guy Allard wrote that Herreros was the same Alberto "Al" Herreros who had been tied to drug smuggling and the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s. Asked about that accusation, Hernandez replied:
With regard to Mr. Herreros, I know nothing about him, other than that he was willing to provide us travel on a private charter at minimal expense. Apparently, that offer is no longer viable, as the plane is in maintenance and can not be used for that purpose.
Hernandez also discounted reports by Allard, who writes for state-owned media in Cuba. Hernandez said:
As to Jean Guy Allard, I think he should be the subject of some media scrutiny as he passes himself off as a journalist when he is nothing more than a paid lackey of the longest running tyranny of this and the last century.
Allard's response to that is here.
I asked Hernandez in an e-mail how Posada Carriles will travel to his trial, if not on the Hawker 700. I have not heard from him on that question.
I couldn't find the name Herreros in more than 100 pages of Federal Aviation Administration documents linked to the Hawker aircraft.
Instead, there are such names as Reginald "Don" Whittington, a fabled ex-drug smuggler and former Le Mans race car driver who piled up fortune in cash and gold in the 1980s before going to prison, and World Jet Inc., Whittington's company, which some journalists have loosely tied to CIA rendition flights.

Don Whittington

Whittington did not respond to a request for comment late Monday.
A photo on World Jet Inc.'s Web site shows a Hawker 700 with tail number N49RJ.
FAA's Web site shows the plane's owner as Mountain Aviation LLC, at 204 E. 22nd St. in Cheyenne, Wyo.
The Cheyenne company doesn't appear to me to have anything to do with another firm called Mountain Aviation, with offices in Salt Lake City and Boise. I spoke with Travis Atwood, manager of the Boise office, and he told me his company doesn't own any planes with the N49RJ tail number. He laughed and said:
It wouldn't be any of ours. We've got no Contra-connected, gun-smuggling, drug-smuggling planes in our fleet.
I dug further into FAA files to try to understand more about the N49RJ plane. Some 100 pages of registration documents are here and 36 pages of airworthiness documents are here (You can view or download the documents; select print and an option to download should appear).
I'm no expert at deciphering FAA documents, but the records seem to show that a company called Mid-America Distribution Inc. in Kansas City, Mo., imported the plane from Russia in 1999.

This document, in Russian, is part of the FAA file. I wonder if Posada Carriles, an avowed anti-communist, would have minded riding a plane that was once used in Russia, considered "enemy territory."

Bills of sale show the plane was sold:
* To World Jet Inc. on Aug. 31, 1999 (bill of sale),
* To Mountain Aviation on Aug. 17, 2000 (bill of sale),
* Back to World Jet on May 27, 2002 (bill of sale),
* Then back to Mountain Aviation on Feb. 25, 2009 (bill of sale).
I skimmed through these documents and it looks like the transactions were made "for and in consideration of $1..." which indicates to me that these were paper transfers that changed the name of the owner, but kept the plane within the same circle of interests.
To be clear, I'm not accusing the plane's owners of any kind of wrongdoing. I'm only trying to understand more about the story behind the story and who supports Posada Carriles, who has dedicated his life to toppling Cuba's socialist government and is considered a hero by some.
I would love to hear what Posada Carriles thinks about all this. I'd like to hear from Alberto Herreros, too. I don't know how to locate him. He is evidently one of Posada Carriles' contemporaries - in his 80s.
World Jet and Whittington have also been controversial. This nine-page U.S. Court of Appeals document contains details of past accusations against Whittington. It cites a DEA sworn statement alleging that Whittington and his brother, William, had "pled guilty to federal criminal charges" in 1986 after authorities accused them of smuggling drugs from 1977 to 1982.
Don Whittington was sentenced to 18 months in prison. He pleaded guilty to laundering drug money and investing the proceeds, records show.
Before his arrest, authorities say, Whittington had piled up millions of dollars in riches, including at least 220 pounds of gold.
Investigative journalist Wayne Madsen has reported accusations that World Jet planes have been involved in CIA rendition flights. I don't know that those accusations have been proven.
There have also been claims of drug trafficking. In a thinly-sourced story in 2007, journalist Daniel Hopsicker suggested that Whittington paid for a Gulfstream jet that crash-landed in Mexico carrying nearly four tons of cocaine and heroin. Hopsicker's story is intriguing, but I don't think he established Whittington's involvement, at least I wasn't convinced. His accusations rely on second-hand material: an aviation executive's conversation with a pilot named Greg Smith.
That name, by the way, is familiar. FAA files I examined while looking for information on the Hawker include a document signed by a pilot named Gregory D. Smith. He is a "trusted pilot" who does work for the CIA and FBI, and has been linked to CIA rendition flights, the transportation of Colombian drug traffickers, and a Gulfstream that crashed in Mexico with a multi-ton load of illegal drugs, according to Narco News.
As for the Hawker, one Web site shows it's for sale in case you're in the market for a corporate jet. It's a 1977 plane, but its interior was redone in 2004.
International Bluebook base price: $990,000.
Make an offer, the Web site says.

Along the Malecon's Anti-Castro militants page
A story in AutoWeek about the Whittington brothers

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