In our previous report on the Samaritan’s Purse “Torture Taxi” (N874SP), we noted that one of the signatures on the FAA registration form (page 3) belongs to Virgil Gottfried, Director of Aviation for the charity. His signature also appears on the FAA records for two other planes with suspicious ownership histories.
According to the FAA airworthiness records for N391SA (a Beechcraft King Air 200), in 1999 Gottfried worked for a company named Dynamic Aviation in Bridgewater, Virginia where he was the Director of Maintenance. The plane had tail number N256AG and had been purchased from AGES Aircraft Sales and Leasing of Boca Raton, Florida who had just acquired it from the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Huntsville, Alabama. In October of 1999, it was sold to Stanford and Associates in Fredericksburg, Virginia and the tail number was changed to N391SA. Bates Properties, Inc. in Monterey, California bought it in May 2000. During its ownership by Dynamic Aviation, Stanford and Associates, and Bates Properties, it had a number of upgrades and modifications done to it. No further work shows up in the FAA records through 2011 when we obtained them.
Then things take a curious turn. In August 2004, Bates sold the plane to Sky Way Aircraft, Inc. in St. Petersburg, Florida. One month later, it was sold to Mario Gonzales Restrepo of Caracas, Venezuela. Two months later, N391SA – bearing the false tail number of N168D – was found on an airstrip in Nicaragua loaded with cocaine and some AK-47s.
Bill Conroy of Narconews.com has been following the story of this plane (and others like it) for years:
On a fall evening in a cotton field in Nicaragua, a group of armed men placed a series of torches in a line of planters along a makeshift runway. About half an hour later, around 9 p.m. that evening, Friday, Nov. 26, 2004, a twin-prop Beechcraft King Air 200 touched down on that rural runway and came to a stop. The assembled men began to unload the plane, which was packed with cocaine, while holding the sole witness to the event, a local field hand, captive.
Done yet? Spooky things going on, eh? And maybe the spooky turn took place earlier in the chain of ownership… Remember that all of the modifications to this plane took place while it was owned by Dynamic Aviation, Stanford and Associates, and Bates Properties.
Another odd part of this story is that the fake tail number used in Nicaragua – N168D – actually belongs to a plane owned by Devon Holding & Leasing in North Carolina. That plane is alleged to have been used in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. Remember James J. Kershaw, President of Stevens Express Leasing? He is also the president of Devon Holding & Leasing.
It may be that it is just a combination of bad luck and coincidence that these companies owned a plane that ended up in a drug deal (and an odd one at that), but something similar happened again to another plane – N258AG – that had the same chain of ownership up to Stanford and Associates.
More on that plane later.