Narco News Investigation: Cocaine Planes Cross Paths with Corporate America’s Green Movement
Men Who Sold Three Planes Later Used by Narco-Traffickers Also Run Biofuel Company Together With Government Communications Contractor
By Bill Conroy
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
February 25, 2008
The web of U.S. government connections to the Gulfstream II jet that crashed in Mexico in late September last year with some four tons of cocaine onboard has taken on an eco-friendly green hue.
The jet, which had a tail number (N987SA) linked by European investigators to past CIA rendition operations, was owned, just prior to its crash landing, by a gringo duo, one of whom was Greg Smith — whom a CIA asset named Baruch Vega claims served as a pilot for past CIA, DEA and FBI undercover missions.
Smith and his partner, Florida pilot Clyde O’Connor, purchased the jet, according to a bill of sale, about a week before its cocaine payload unexpectedly hit the ground in Mexico’s Yucatan on Sept. 24, 2007. The seller was a Florida company called Donna Blue Aircraft Inc. — which is owned by two Brazilians, one of whom is Joao Malago.
Howard Altman of the Tampa Tribune reported recently that Malago is a business partner in a “green” company called Atlantic Alcohol with an individual named Larry Peters, who owns Skyway Aircraft Inc. in St. Petersburg, Fla. Skyway also happens to have sold two planes to Venezuelan buyers in recent years that have since been identified as aircraft that were subsequently used in drug-trafficking operations.
Peters’ company sold a Beech 200 aircraft to a Venezuelan purchaser in October 2004, about a month before it was apprehended in a Nicaraguan cotton field linked to a payload of some 1,100 kilos of cocaine. In addition, a recent FBI affidavit filed in federal court in Miami identifies another plane, a Cessna Conquest II (tail number N12DT), that was sold by Skyway in 2006 to a Venezuelan purchaser allegedly linked to a drug trafficking organization (DTO).
“This particular type of aircraft was utilized by DTO’s to transport cocaine from Venezuela to Africa,” the FBI complaint alleges.
The FBI affidavit characterizes the seller of the aircraft (Skyway) as an “unwitting” party in the aircraft’s eventual use as part of a money-laundering and narco-trafficking racket.
But the facts are the facts, nonetheless. Peters and his business partner, Malago, between them have sold a total of three aircraft over the past four years that were subsequently used in Latin America for narco-trafficking operations. At least two of those aircraft, the Beech 200 as well as the Gulfstream II, as Narco News has previously reported, also have been linked to past CIA use.
The Beech 200 was found in Nicaragua bearing a false tail number (N168D), which Federal Aviation Administration records show is registered to a North Carolina company called Devon Holding and Leasing Inc. (The Beech 200’s real tail number was N391SA.)
According to press reports and an investigation conducted by the European Parliament into the CIA’s terrorist rendition program, Devon Holding is a CIA shell company and N168D is a tail number to a CIA aircraft.
In addition, the Gulfstream II, according to DEA sources, was being used as part of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) undercover operation, called the Mayan Express, when it crashed in Mexico. Those sources contend the operation is being run “unilaterally” without the knowledge or cooperation of Latin American governments.
CIA asset Vega further claims that a notorious Colombian narco-trafficker named Nelson Urrego works as an informant for the U.S. government, both ICE and the CIA, and that he helped to arrange the Gulfstream II’s cocaine payload through Colombian paramilitary groups. Panamanian authorities arrested Urrego on money-laundering charges about a week before the Gulfstream II crashed. Urrego has since told the Panamanian press that he is, in fact, a CIA asset.
Given this backdrop, several Narco News sources, including Mark Conrad, a former supervisor special agent with ICE’s predecessor agency, U.S. Customs, have suggested that the CIA, not ICE, is actually the U.S. agency controlling the Mayan Express operation.
Due to the multiple allegations linking at least two of these cocaine planes to U.S. intelligence agency operations, questions do arise as to whether the current DEA and FBI investigations into the cocaine planes will be allowed to get to the bottom of this mystery, according to law enforcement sources who spoke with Narco News. They explain that any individuals or companies involved in a CIA-backed operation, even ones that are complicit in drug trafficking, would be off limits to U.S. law enforcers due to the cloak of national security the CIA can invoke.
Sandalio Gonzalez, a retired DEA veteran who used to run the agency’s South American operations, in commenting on the Mayan Express operation, told Narco News previously:
What sense does it make for the government to smuggle drugs into the country itself just to make cases? I find it strange for a law enforcement agency to be running a unilateral operation [the Mayan Express] involving that much dope being moved out of Colombia. It’s an indication to me that something illegal is going on involving either crooks and/or government people.”
However, Gonzalez adds:
Intel collection in exchange for letting a narco-trafficker run his business is standard operating procedure for the Agency. I personally have witnessed it. DEA has a law enforcement agenda; the CIA is a law-breaking agency.
As far as Carlos Mitchem, spokesman for DEA’s Mexico City office, is concerned, though, the agency’s investigation is moving forward.
“We are running a separate investigation from the FBI,” Mitchem told Narco News. “It is a progressing, active investigation right now.”
Narco News contacted Malago by phone and he confirmed that he does serve as a “South American representative” for Atlantic Alcohol, which lists Skyway’s Peters as one of its principals and officers.
Atlantic Alcohol is essentially a broker for biofuels, in particular ethanol, according to a brochure the company produced to promote its business. Malago explains that Atlantic Alcohol purchases ethanol from third parties and then resells and distributes the fuel to buyers primarily in the United States and Europe.
He confirms that the company operates a warehouse facility in Brazil that is used to store biofuels. In addition, the company’s promotional literature indicates Atlantic Alcohol has operations in the British West Indies and in the Dominican Republic.
“We buy biofuels in Brazil and sell them to companies looking to buy it. …We are trying to get out of the plane business and into the fuel business because you don’t have the problems associated with it, unless you can carry drugs in ethanol,” Malago quips. “There is a big market for ethanol now.”
Both Peters and Malago have previously told Narco News that they have no control over what happens to aircraft they sell once the new buyers take possession of the planes. Neither of them have been identified as targets of the ongoing, separate DEA and FBI investigations into the cocaine planes — although Malago says he has provided information to the U.S. Embassy in Brazil with the goal of assisting investigators looking into the crash of the Gulfstream II aircraft.
Peters did not return calls to Narco News seeking comment on Atlantic Alcohol’s operations.
Malago and Peters are not alone in their Atlantic Alcohol venture. The company’s brochure lists several other people as officers of the company, including David Janney and Neil Singer.
Narco News contacted Janney via telephone for a comment for this story. Janney suggested that Narco News contact Singer, “who is in charge of media” for the company.
Singer told Narco News that he had “never heard of” the cocaine planes and that he has “no relationship with Skyway.” He declined to comment beyond that other than to confirm that he owns a high-tech computer-assisted design company in the Washington, D.C. area., called the Cornerstone Companies and that a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based real-estate investment firm called Bison Financial Group Inc. “on occasion has been a customer of mine.”
Behind the Curtain
Despite Singer’s reluctance to speak with Narco News, a paper trail does exist that illuminates his career interests to an extent.
Photo: SettlementRoom (cached page)
Singer is actually listed as the owner of Atlantic Alcohol, which is located at 341 8th Ave. Southeast in St. Petersburg, Fla., according to Dun & Bradstreet, a popular business research service. That’s the same address listed on the Web site for Larry Peter’s Skyway Aircraft Inc.
Singer also is listed as the registrant of Atlantic Alcohol’s Web site, according to public Internet records. In addition, the Web site and brochure for Atlantic Alcohol lists both Peters and Singer as principals and officers of the company.
Several Web sites also mention Singer’s past and present employment experience and also include biographical information of interest.
For example, the following background on Singer can be found at a cached Web site for a high-tech real estate company called the SettlementRoom:
Neil Singer joined SettlementRoom on a permanent basis after being the lead developer on the original SettlementRoom development contract. He has significant expertise in process automation, database integration, and dynamic content generation. He is also experienced in a wide variety of database architectures, graphics and system design software, and a variety of hardware and operating system environments. Over the past 12 years, Mr. Singer has worked as a consultant on major government contracts and large commercial systems, including projects for AT&T, Blue Cross, CSC, HUD, NASA, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Neil Singer has a B.S. degree from Cornell University.
Singer also is listed as a board member of a small nonprofit group called the Israel Fund. His bio on that group’s Web site states the following:
Neil Singer is the president of The Cornerstone Companies, with offices in Washington, DC and Tampa, FL. Twenty years of national and international operations have required him to work in widely disparate communities, with contrasting opportunities and needs. New ventures include seeking opportunities to promote ethanol and other clean-fuel alternatives to petroleum power.
His undergraduate work at Cornell University in both Natural Resources and Business management was followed by graduate work at American University in International Development. These programs provided a foundation for Mr. Singer to bring the priorities of continuing education and fair labor practice into the world of entrepreneurial business. …
And, finally, this link on the Web site for Bison Financial actually lists Singer as one of the “principals” of the firm and offers this insight into his career experience:
Neil, 36, was born and raised in Buffalo, New York and graduated from Cornell University in 1988. Neil brings fourteen years of experience in corporate communications in both independent contracting, corporate and government information technology consulting.
Neil’s involvement in IT and business communications projects has earned him experience living and working in San Francisco, Boston, San Antonio, Houston, Orlando, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., before making Fairfax, Virginia his base of operations in 1997. Neil is now happily spending more time living and working on projects on Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Neil has built front-end websites and back-office data systems for Fortune 100 companies and Federal Government Agencies. Neil has experience supporting the US Marine Corps and the US Army with Internet technology, training and support services, and he carries a current security clearance. [Emphasis added.]
Neil supports Bison with his technical perspective, and helps keep Bison Financial Group at the leading/bleeding edge of the important business computer and Internet tools of the 21st century.
Although Singer was reluctant to talk with Narco News over the phone, he did suggest we send him an e-mail with questions we might have about his business endeavors. Given Singer’s extensive background in doing work for the U.S. government, including the fact that his Bison Financial profile indicates he holds a “current security clearance,” it seems that he might be of great value to U.S. government investigators in helping to track down the mystery of the cocaine planes.
After all, Singer’s business partners, Peters and Malago, have been taken advantage of by unscrupulous drug traffickers, so it doesn’t seem out of the question that Singer might want to be of some assistance to U.S. government investigators in helping to bring the criminals who duped his business partner to justice.
So, that was the nature of the e-mail Narco News sent to Singer:
We spoke on the phone today concerning Atlantic Alcohol and a company called Skyway Aircraft in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The brochure for Atlantic Alcohol lists you and Larry Peters as well as an individual named David Janney as officers of the company. Mr. Peters also owns Skyway Aircraft.
I spoke with Mr. Janney briefly and he recommended I talk to you about Atlantic Alcohol.
You said you are not aware of the media coverage involving Skyway and the fact it sold two planes to Latin American buyers who subsequently used those aircraft in narcotics-trafficking- and money-laundering-related activities. Mr. Peters has previously stated that he had no knowledge of how those planes were being used after his company sold them and cannot control what third parties do with the aircraft once they have been sold.
Another Atlantic Alcohol representative, Joao Malago of Brazil, also was involved the sale of a plane … that subsequently crashed in Mexico with nearly four tons of cocaine onboard. Mr. Malago likewise says he cannot control what happens to a plane once he has sold it.
However, the FBI and DEA are conducting separate investigations involving those planes.
Given these connections, it does not seem improbable that federal agents might have approached individuals associated with Atlantic Alcohol as well as Skyway to question them about the planes. Mr. Malago has already confirmed that he has supplied information to the U.S. Embassy on the matter.
So my questions to you are the following:
Have you been questioned by law enforcement officials on this matter, or are you cooperating with law enforcement or intelligence officials with respect to these aircraft and their past use in narco-trafficking- and money-laundering-related operations?
Also, is there any insight you can provide into the situation and how it affects Atlantic Alcohol?
I realize you may be constrained in answering these questions, but any help you can provide is appreciated. …
Unfortunately, Singer has not yet replied to the e-mail, nor has he returned several calls seeking to assure he received the e-mail correspondence.
But we should think the best of this.
If these cocaine planes are linked to CIA operations, as signs point to in at least two of the aircraft, and Singer (who has a history of doing highly sensitive work for the U.S. government) and/or his business partners at Atlantic Alcohol are assisting the Agency in this endeavor in some way, it is very likely Singer would not be at liberty to discuss that with the press, right?
So that means the answers to the questions this story raises cannot be answered with certainty at this point.
For now, we’ll all have to be satisfied with the less-than-settling recognition that there is no three-strikes rule under U.S. law when it comes to private companies selling aircraft to narco-traffickers.
Past Stories in Cocaine Planes Series:
Third Cocaine Plane Surfaces and is Tied to Web of Government Connections
Cocaine Jet Crash in Mexico Linked to Narco-Trafficker Who Worked for U.S. Government
Jet Case Colored with Shades of Iran/Contra and “House of Death”
Cocaine Jet That Crashed in Mexico Part of Cowboy Government Operation, DEA Sources Claim
New Document Provides Further Evidence That Owner of Crashed Cocaine Jet Was a U.S. Government Operative
Mysterious Jet Crash Is Rare Portal Into the “Dark Alliances” of the Drug War
Narco News is funded by your contributions to The Fund for Authentic Journalism.
Please make journalism like this possible by going to The Fund's web site
and making a contribution today.
- The Fund for Authentic Journalism
For more Narco News, click here.