Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Drug Enforcement Administration Case Threatens to Expose US Government-Sanctioned Drug-Running

Pleadings in Federal Court Reveal ICE Undercover Operation Marked With CIA Fingerprints

Federal agents this past November raided the offices of an aircraft brokerage and leasing company called World Jet Inc., based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The raid, spearheaded by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, was launched on the heels of a DEA affidavit for a search warrant, which was filed in late October last year in federal court in Colorado as part of a case that is now sealed. The search-warrant affidavit was made available on the Internet after being obtained by a reporter for the Durango Herald newspaper.

The affidavit outlines allegations against several individuals accused by the DEA of participating in a narco-trafficking conspiracy. But that is not the big story here.

Instead, the real news is buried deep in the DEA court pleadings and confirms the existence of a US undercover operation that Narco News reported previously had allowed tons of cocaine to be flown from Latin America into the states absent proper controls or the knowledge of the affected Latin American nations.

The DEA affidavit focuses on the owner of World Jet, Don Whittington, and his brother, Bill — both of whom earned modest infamy as race-car drivers who were convicted and served time in prison for participating in a marijuana-smuggling conspiracy in the 1980s.

The DEA now alleges the pair, through World Jet, have leased or brokered the sale of multiple aircraft to agents of known narco-trafficking organizations in Latin America. Those aircraft, the DEA claims, were leased or sold at inflated prices and the proceeds laundered through various businesses owned or operate by the brothers — including a resort and spa in Colorado.

Because the titles and tail numbers for the leased aircraft are kept in World Jet or related-parties’ names, the planes can be “repossessed” by World Jet after they have served their purpose for the narco-traffickers, or if a plane is later seized as part of a drug bust, “both parties can deny responsibility and World Jet Inc. can reclaim the aircraft as they hold the financial lien,” the DEA affidavit alleges.

Narco News contacted World Jet’s office in Florida seeking comment from the Whittington brothers and also contacted their attorney. None of them returned calls prior to deadline.

Read more here: http://narcosphere.narconews.com/notebook/bill-conroy/2014/01/dea-case-threatens-expose-us-government-sanctioned-drug-running

Federal authorities are investigating the family of the owners of the Springs Resort & Spa in Pagosa Springs for possibly laundering drug money through the famous hot springs. 

 No one has been accused of a crime, but a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official detailed a lengthy investigation of aircraft dealer Reginald “Don” Whittington, 67, in an affidavit in support of a search warrant for Whittington’s emails.

Whittington and his brother, William Marvin “Bill” Whittington, are former champion race car drivers, and they both served prison time in the 1980s for charges related to marijuana smuggling.

Don Whittington now owns World Jet, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., firm that federal agents say offers jets to carry South American drug shipments.

A DEA informant said Whittington is laundering his proceeds through the Springs Resort and Spa in Pagosa Springs, according to a 35-page affidavit by DEA Special Agent Charles Amell.

Hot springs owners Nerissa and Keely Whittington deny the allegations.

“Nerissa and Keely Whittington are honest members of the Pagosa Springs business community, and any allegation that they or the Springs Resort are involved in any illegal activity is absurd and unfounded,” said Eric Loman, a lawyer for the sisters and the resort.

A DEA spokesman in Denver did not return a call after a brief conversation with The Durango Herald on Monday and an email Friday.

Agents had Don Whittington under surveillance when he flew into Pagosa Springs on April 19, according to the affidavit. The pilot of that flight was Gregory Dean Smith, who the DEA says is a World Jet contract employee and a “pilot of interest” in investigations of Latin American drug smuggling.

Dozens of companies, one address

Nerissa and Keely Whittington are identified publicly as the resort’s owners. Bill Whittington, their father, has been representing the hot springs resort to the Pagosa Springs town government as it pursues a decade-long expansion project.

The Springs Resort’s parent company, Pagosa Resort and Spa, has the same address as World Jet – 1020 NW 62nd Street in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The address is a hangar at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.

Nerissa and Keely Whittington are officers of the Gulfstream Group, an Albuquerque-based real estate company, which owns the Springs Resort.

Nerissa Whittington is an officer of 19 different companies registered in Florida. Keely is an officer in 15 companies, mostly the same ones as Nerissa. All of the companies, including Gulfstream, use World Jet’s address at the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.

Since 2012, Keely Whittington has worked for the town of Pagosa Springs as a project manager in the planning department.

$645,000 seized in 2009

Bank records show World Jet wired $451,000 to the Pagosa spa in 2009, and the spa wired back $111,408 the same year, according to the search warrant affidavit.

Around that time, federal agents seized $645,000 from World Jet’s bank account, causing Don and Bill Whittington to change “their method of transferring illegal proceeds from Florida to Colorado from direct wire transfers to indirect wire transfers using third parties and possibly bulk cash transportation,” Amell wrote in the affidavit.

Bill Whittington has promoted a $250 million, multi-year expansion of the Springs Resort to Pagosa’s Town Council. The resort received approval from the town in 2008 to expand the number of its hot springs pools from 18 to 23, along with the construction of a 29-room hotel. Long-term plans call for time shares, an expanded hotel and retail development.

Colorful lives

The Whittington brothers have led colorful lives. Along with Klaus Ludwig, they won the Le Mans, France, 24-hour endurance race in 1979. They both drove in the Indianapolis 500 five times. Their best showing was Don Whittington’s sixth place in 1982.

In 1987, Don Whittington pleaded guilty to tax evasion and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. In a related case, Bill Whittington pleaded guilty to marijuana smuggling and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. But Bill was released early in November 1990, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

Stories in the Philadelphia Inquirer say that after Don Whittington’s release, he cashed in $1.3 million in gold at a Delaware bank, but federal agents confiscated the money. He filed a lawsuit against the federal government to get the money back, but he lost, according to court records.

In 1990, Don Whittington survived a crash of a P-51 Mustang, a World War II fighter plane, off the Texas Gulf Coast, according to several newspaper accounts.

Don Whittington unsuccessfully sued the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation in 2006 to force the Indy 500 museum to return the Porsche 935 K3 in which he won the Le Mans endurance race. Whittington claimed he had merely loaned the car to the museum, but judges ruled that he had actually donated it.

Probe into plane sales

The DEA in Florida has been investigating World Jet for more than a year. Amell’s affidavit details a scheme in which the company would sell airplanes at inflated prices to drug traffickers but maintain the title, either in the name of World Jet or a third party. When the smugglers were done with the planes, World Jet would “repossess” them.

The warrant lists several aircraft sales by World Jet to known or suspected drug traffickers, including:

A Hawker 700 jet that DEA sources said was used to transport cocaine from Venezuela to Honduras. Venezuelan authorities seized the plane in May.

A Gulfstream II that was purchased in May, allegedly to smuggle cocaine from South America to Central America for the Camilo McAllister-Maldonado drug trafficking organization in Colombia. A DEA confidential source negotiated the transaction, and $187,000 was wired into a DEA undercover account, after which World Jet transferred the plane to the confidential source, according to the affidavit.

A Piper PA-31, which Colombian police seized in 2009 with more than 1,700 pounds of cocaine aboard. The plane has been registered to World Jet since 2008, according to FlightAware, a company that tracks aviation data.

The DEA seized $645,000 from World Jet after the plane was snagged in Colombia. Whittington told DEA agents at the time there was no need to seize the money, because he would have turned it over voluntarily if they had asked, according to the affidavit.

Three planes sold to Congo Mining & Services, which according to the affidavit is under investigation for laundering money from drug and weapons trafficking in Africa into the United States.

Congo Mining pleaded guilty to flying unregistered aircraft and agreed to a $75,000 fine in federal court in Florida this February. The plea agreement cites a flight on Oct. 14, 2012, from the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport to Barbados. A Gulfstream 3 was sold on Oct. 10, 2012, to Congo Mining & Services, and on April 19, 2013, it was registered to a trustee, R.D. Whittington Jr., according to FlightAware.

Under the search warrant, which was approved by U.S. Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher in Grand Junction, the DEA received copies of emails from four World Jet accounts from the company’s email provider in Illinois.

This story has been corrected since its original publication.

A DEA agent on the scene during a federal probe of World Jet near executive airport in Ft.Lauderdale. 
(Carline Jean, Sun Sentinel)

Agents with the Drug Enforcement Agency raided a business at the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport Monday as part of an ongoing investigation, officials said. 

Several DEA agents along with Homeland Security Investigations officers were seen at the airport offices of World Jet, Inc.

DEA officials wouldn't give details of the investigation.

But according to a Colorado search warrant filed last month and leaked on the Internet by a Colorado newspaper, World Jet is owned by brothers William and Reginald Whittington, who are being investigated for links to drug trafficking organizations.

Emails sent to the Whittington brothers for comment weren't immediately returned Monday.

According to the warrant, Reginald Whittington sold or leased multiple aircraft to purchasing agents of Venezuelan, Colombian, African and Mexican drug trafficking organizations.

A confidential source told the DEA that the proceeds of the sales were then invested into a ranch and spa in Colorado and were laundered through a hotel by William Whittington, the warrant said.

The DEA has been investigating World Jet for a year, the warrant said.

According to the warrant, William Whittington pleaded guilty to marijuana importation and federal tax violations in 1986 and was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. As part of a plea deal, he agreed to forfeit $7 million in U.S. currency and assets to the U.S. government, the warrant said.

In 1987, Reginald Whittington pleaded guilty to federal tax violations and was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, the warrant said.

Story, Video and Comments/Reaction:  http://www.nbcmiami.com

DEA raids firm linked to Pagosa spa: Florida aircraft service suspected of drug trafficking, money laundering

Florida aircraft service suspected of drug trafficking, money laundering: Ex-Racers With Ties To Pagosa Springs Probed Over Drug Aircraft 

MIAMI (AP) – Federal drug agents are investigating a Florida aircraft leasing business operated by two former champion race drivers who are suspected of providing airplanes to South American drug traffickers, according to court documents and interviews.

Agents from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI and Homeland Security Department raided the Fort Lauderdale offices Monday of World Jet Inc., which is controlled by brothers Don and Bill Whittington. They raced in the Indianapolis 500 and other tracks, teaming up with a third driver to win the France’s 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1979.

Later, both brothers pleaded guilty for their roles in a $73 million marijuana smuggling ring that authorities said financed their racing careers.

Now, according to a DEA search warrant affidavit that relies on several confidential informants, the Whittingtons are suspected of illegally leasing aircraft from Florida to cocaine cartels and laundering drug-related profits through a hot springs resort hotel and a ranch in Colorado.

Mia Ro, a DEA spokeswoman in Miami, confirmed her agency is leading the investigation but declined to provide details. Agents were seen carrying boxes of records and other items from World Jet’s offices at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport on Monday.

No charges have been filed. An employee at World Jet hung up Tuesday when telephoned for comment, and the Whittingtons did not respond to email messages. It wasn’t clear if they had attorneys related to the DEA probe.

According to the DEA, World Jet leases or sells aircraft to drug traffickers in Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico and Africa at inflated prices, keeping the plane under the Whittington name or that of a third party and maintaining a U.S. tail number. After a certain period, the aircraft is returned to World Jet.

“In the event that the aircraft is seized pursuant to a narcotics interdiction, both parties can deny responsibility and World Jet Inc. can reclaim the aircraft,” the DEA said in the affidavit, filed in Colorado federal court.

Specific aircraft traced to World Jet were involved in numerous drug shipments or attempts, according to the DEA, including one Hawker 700 jet that was seized by the Venezuelan government earlier this year. One informant said that plane was supposed to carry more than two tons of cocaine from Venezuela to Honduras.

Another plane, a Beech King Air 300, was sold to the head of a South African company currently under U.S. investigation for laundering profits from the illegal drug and weapons trade in the U.S., the DEA affidavit says.

The resort involved in the investigation is the Springs Resort and Spa in Pagosa Springs, Colo., according to the DEA. Bill Whittington’s daughters, Nerissa and Keely Whittington, are identified as the resort’s operators, and the resort itself lists a Florida corporate address that is the same as World Jet’s.

Recently the city of Pagosa Springs approved an expansion plan pushed by Bill Whittington that includes raising the number of geothermal pools from 18 to 23 and building a 29-room hotel. Based on confidential informants, the DEA suspects that money from the aircraft sales to cocaine smugglers has been invested in the resort.

In addition, the DEA affidavit says World Jet money has gone into a nearby property called Three Meadows Ranch that is owned by an entity controlled by Nerissa Whittington. That entity, Fawn Gulch LLC, also lists World Jet’s corporate address in Florida.

No charges have been filed against either Nerissa or Keely Whittington. Their attorneys, Zachary Ives and Jason Bowles, issued a joint statement Tuesday on their behalf:

“The Springs Resort & Spa is a well-respected business and community partner that has never been used to launder money,” the lawyers said.

The Whittington brothers are no strangers to illegal drugs. They were sentenced to prison in 1987 after pleading guilty for their roles in a large-scale marijuana smuggling operation and Bill Whittington was forced to forfeit race cars, boats, planes, a mobile home park in Lakeland and $7 million in currency to the government.

Prosecutors said at the time that the Whittingtons were using drug sales profits to finance their racing team. In addition to the 1979 Le Mans, Don Whittington also raced on the NASCAR circuit in the early 1980s and – along with Bill Whittington and a third brother, Dale – raced in the Indianapolis 500. In 1982, Don Whittington finished sixth in that race, the best of the trio.

Don and Bill Whittington also raced P-51 Mustang airplanes at the Reno Air Races in Nevada.

Story and Video:  http://denver.cbslocal.com