NARCO-POLITIK: “Mafia Shipping Company’, Follow The Money To Sarasota, Florida – By Daniel Hopsicker

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  • “…Cocaine may not be in the news anymore, the way it was during the contra cocaine-fueled 1980’s, or the crack epidemic in the ‘90’s, but it is never far from front of mind by the—let’s call them “movers” and “shakers”—worldwide…Transnational organized crime is a 10-story high container ship more than three football fields long, like the MSC Guyane which docked in the port of Philadelphia carrying 19 tons of cocaine

Follow the Money to Sarasota, Florida

By Daniel Hopsicker

Still, Trump put the money to clever use, funding his newly created Save America PAC.

Was that a problem? Not in Sarasota. Few expressed surprise. What did raise eyebrows was how spectacularly successful Trump’s email marketing turned out to be.

Where did the skillset required to raise that kind of cash come from? From practice.  If you guessed that transnational organized crime had more than a foothold in Sarasota, but  suited up a whole Winter League team, you might not be far wrong.

While no one was paying attention, Sarasota became a MAGA cash cow. We will soon start a tally. Watching the colorful grifters in action a few surprises.

The ring’s financial mastermind wasn’t a Floridian. He wasn’t from New York. Not Russian. Not BigSki (Russian Mob Boss Semion Mogilevich.) Nyet.

Do You Sarasota?

Today, more than ever, it’s important to “Know your Russian Mobsters.”  (It’s a meme. I  made it up myself, thanks.) Because they may be back.

“Sarasota” could become shorthand for crime with official approval. The Sarasota selling proposition was: Sell unregistered shares. Don’t worry that it’s illegal.  Take a profit. Get a tan on one of Sarasota’s excellent beaches. One even has its own TV series. A beach.

In the olden times, small town newspapers like the Sarasota Herald-Tribune carried a regular feature called: LOOKING BACK: 30 YEARS AGO TODAY.

The Aug 28 1964 Herald-Tribune noted two big stories from “THIRTY YEARS AGO TODAY,” on Aug 28, 1934. The first:

Predictions that Florida and the United States will soon emerge from the present economic depression highlighted dedication ceremonies at the new Sarasota Post Office.”

The second, from that steamy summer day in August, in Florida:

A dope smuggling plane has reportedly been captured by Federal Agents near Venice.”

A drug smuggling plane in Venice in 1934? It seems a little early for that. Are you old enough to remember Watergate? When “follow the money” was a mantra?

In the current scandal, it feels like that’s the point we’re at. The story could use a Jake Gittes. Someone to delivers advice with a little sneer. Tells it like it is to Mrs. Mulray:

“You can follow the action. That will get you good pictures. You can follow your instincts, which will get you in trouble. Or you can follow the money, which nine times out of ten will get you closer to the truth.”

“We find ourselves in Moontown.”

In the news three months ago, an airplane from AGAPE Flights, a group of evangelical humanitarians operating out of the Venice Airport, was destroyed by rioters at Les Cayes airport in Haiti’s south-central region.

What’s that got to do with the MAGA move to Sarasota? Maybe more than you think.

There was an extraordinary picture showing people dancing atop a twin-engine Piper Navajo Chieftain being engulfed in flames, after being set ablaze and torched. The plane  is registered to a Christian ministry in Florida, AGAPE Flights.

AGAPE quickly issued a press release on its website:

“Rioting broke out in the Les Cayes, Haiti area today (3/29/22), including the airport. Due to the rioting, AGAPE’s Chieftain aircraft has been destroyed, but our team on the ground is safe. We are preparing to bring them back to the U.S.”

“Haitians took to the streets and attacked and burned a private plane owned by U.S. missionary group AGAPE. At least one person died,” said Gedeon Chery, a National Police inspector assigned to the city’s airport. “Five others were injured.”

AGAPE is a Christian ministry transporting supplies to missionaries in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas. Said AGAPE Flights CEO Allen Speer:

“We didn’t have any clue this would happen. But it was not a direct threat to Agape Flights. They actually thought our plane was a politician’s plane, is what we were told.”

Imagine that. A case of mistaken identity. Pasty-faced Baptists pretending to be Tonton Macoute.

AGAPE always gets good press. This seemed well beyond that.

From the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:

“AGAPE Flights, the nonprofit Christian aviation ministry based at Venice Municipal Airport, say that missionary affiliates have heard that the rioters thought the plane belonged to a politician.”

The only plane destroyed by the rioters in Haiti that day belonged to AGAPE.  They knew what they were going for.

A Venice Airport flashback.

As it happens, I have a personal backstory with AGAPE.  It happened fifteen years ago. Is  what I learned relevant to the alt-right penetration in Sarasota?

It was 2007. A few years since “Welcome to TerrorLand came out, and I was no longer loitering with binoculars at the Venice Municipal Airport. That’s why I was startled to hear from a old friend and confidential source at the Venice Airport post 9/11.

Coy Jacob’s aviation business sat right next to Huffman Aviation. He had not been pleased by what he saw. He passed on what he remembered.  When the aviation industry went into serious recession several years after 9/11, Coy folded his Mooney dealership and rented an office on the second floor of AGAPE’S new hangar at the Venice Airport.

That he saw anything there was sheer happenstance. But once seen, he couldn’t un-see it.

“It’s obviously a very well-funded operation. But I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. What they were flying down to Haiti with was just junk.”

He carefully stressed his words. “Stuff that didn’t sell at garage sales. Used silverware and plates, used bedding. Every so often we’d see a new coffeepot, or a portable generator. But it was mostly all junk.”

Jacob mimed adding figures together on a hand-held calculator.

“With the price of aviation gasoline today, it costs them between $6000 and $8000 just to fly down and back to Haiti. And for what? A couple hundred dollars’ worth of toasters?”

Coy Jacob sounded worried. He was a seasoned aviation executive, and something about AGAPE’s operation did not, at all, make sense to him. The trouble that foreboded   was well understood by owners of aviation businesses in Venice.

Later, while loitering with intent, I encountered an 86-year-old pilot met a half-dozen years earlier. He was a wizened veteran who’d kept a plane at Venice airport for more than 30 years. He had a glint in his eye and an old-guy Will Rogers delivery.

“I’ve been planning to call those folks at AGAPE. I’ve got a real cost-saving idea. I am going to give those guys a big tip, even though I know they have a million-dollar hangar, a million-dollar plane, three pilots on staff, and a dozen SUV’s sitting in the parking lot.

“If you just pay for gas,” he said, his head shaking, “pilots are happy to fly to South America for free. But these guys keep a million-dollar Cessna Grand Caravan, and have three pilots on the payroll.”

A well-funded aviation operation in South Florida with an unlikely legend, or cover story, can mean only one thing.

‘She don’t lie she don’t lie she don’t lie…”

Cocaine may not be in the news anymore, the way it was during the contra cocaine-fueled 1980’s, or the crack epidemic in the ‘90’s, but it is never far from front of mind by the—let’s call them “movers” and “shakers”—worldwide.

That may be why organized crime seems to be on a lengthy hiatus. The money is in transnational organized crime, operating efficiently across multiple time zones on multiple continents.

All that efficiency is on full display in that shiny diamond of the New South, Sarasota.

Traditional organized crime is a candy store in Brooklyn run by guys with names like Tommy the Toupee, Fat Pete, and Whack-Whack, who are doing loansharking, running illegal sport books, and hosting occasional lawn sales of items that fell off the back of a truck somewhere.

Transnational organized crime is a 10-story high container ship more than three football fields long, like the MSC Guyane which docked in the port of Philadelphia carrying 19 tons of cocaine.

It is orders of magnitude larger than your wildest imaginings. It’s big enough to get stuck in the Suez Canal. (But operatives still have cute nicknames. See: “Red Eye.” Or “Master Jon.”)

The 19-ton cocaine bust in Philadelphia aboard a vessel of the Mediterranean Shipping Company—called the “Mafia Shipping Company” by its detractors—fell just short of the biggest coke bust in American history, twenty-one tons, found in a warehouse in Los Angeles.

Taking the business to this level of awesomeness wasn’t the goal of the drug trafficking organization profiled in Gangster Planet. Nobody thought that large. It would have been easier to believe that we would all have hovercars by now.

“Transnational organized crime.” It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, like Murder Inc. Or The Purple Gang. It’s such a colorless phrase. That’s probably why they picked it: so no one but sociologists would ever use it.

But whatever its called, its tentacles reach so deep that, today, there are hundreds of niche players no one would ever suspect of being “mobbed up.”

Like Dmitry Rybolovlev, Russia’s fertilizer king. Donald Trump sold a mansion in Palm Beach—for twice what it was worth—to a Russian mobster credibly accused of having the family (including young children) of someone willing to testify against him murdered in Perm during the Aluminum Wars of the 1990’s… and no one chastised him.

That’s how Dmitry got to be the Russian fertilizer king.

And Pavel Vrublevsky, Russian hacker, the first of his countrymen accused of attempting to sway the election for Trump, during the summer BEFORE the November 2016 election.

“Sloppy tradecraft” as mortal sin

It was explained to me this way, by a 40-year veteran of America’s national security state: “Your “legend” is your “cover story,” the lie that holds together long enough to let you slip away.”

He was using a technical term to describe the secrets of spycraft, by which he judged the success of any operation. “Sloppy tradecraft” was an oft-used term of derision.

By that definition, the legends of dozens of companies in Southwest Florida are so painfully obvious that it sometimes takes the fun out of it. They weren’t well-constructed enough to last long enough to rent a car at the airport.

EXAMPLE: Oregon pilot Richard Boehlke—Wally Hilliard’s partner in a start-up airline in Florida called Florida Air (FLAIR)—was part of what the Securities & Exchange Commission called the biggest fraud by an investment manager in U.S. history,” which looted the pension funds of mostly Mob-led unions—invested his winnings in a condo development called “Legends.”

EXAMPLE: Adnan Khashoggi’s lieutenant Ramy El Batrawi’s latest public company, “Yay-Yo,”  is how 14-year old kids say “cocaine” these days.

EXAMPLE:  Wallace J. Hilliard—the man who owned the flight school that trained Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi to fly—totally escaped criticism or scrutiny after his Learjet (N351WB) was busted in Orlando carrying 43 lbs. of heroin… through the simple expedient of registering his drug planes, not in his name, but that of his air charter company in Naples.

A Russian Little Deuce Coup

Downtown Moscow. Sept. 2, 2007.  Two p.m. on Sunday afternoon.  A navy-blue BMW 760 noses up to the edge of a crosswalk at a traffic light before it crosses a Square devoid of traffic.

The BMW’s driver’s hacker nickname was “Jaks.’  He has just become a father for the first time that day. He and his passenger had been toasting with prodigious amounts of vodka.

A black Porsche Cayenne pulls alongside. Jaks had a simmering rivalry with the driver. Both drivers revved their engines, ready to race the short straight distance across the square ahead. The signal flashed green. The squeal of rubber on concrete echoes across the square.

Reaching the race’s midpoint at more than 150 miles per hour, Jaks lost control. He clipped the Porsche, then careened into a huge metal lamppost. His BMW was sliced in two; the Porsche was left a smoldering, crumpled wreck.

Both drivers limped away. But one passenger— a promising 23-year-old Internet entrepreneur who was already a minor celebrity in Moscow’s cybercriminal underground—was killed instantly, his almost headless body pinned underneath the car. By the time paramedics had cleared the area, gruesome images of the carnage had already been uploaded to Russian hacker forums.

The dead Russian spammer ran one of the largest online businesses on the planet, pumping out millions of junk email or “spam” every day via robot networks: “botnets.”

Russian hackers bread and butter was selling Viagra, in hundreds of mutations. Penile enlargers sold well. Aftersales might include an antenna booster. Or a dildo. Or an antenna booster in the shape of a dildo.

Thistableaux in Moscow is how cybersecurity journalist and former Washington Post reporter Brian Krebs introduced readers to notorious. Russian hacker Pavel “Rey Eye” Vrublevsky in his book “Spam Nation.”

“Red-Eye” Vrublevsky was at ground zero in a hot war in Russia for control of online pharmacy sales. The bitter clash between Russia’s two leading online pharmacies was a titanic battle between two pirate empires, each trying to annihilate the other in campaigns of mutual assured destruction.

On one side of the battle was online pharmacy GlavMed. On the other, Rx-Promotion, the competing online pharmacy started by the former partner of the GlavMed owner, the then 35-year old Pavel “Red Eye” Vrublevsky.

“Red Eye” was the top executive at ChronoPay, Russia’s largest online payment-processing firm. They ran the back-end, collecting money for hundreds of websites and spammers, and exposing crucial day-to-day money laundering by international drug cartels.

The Pharmacy War shared much in common with the earlier and more celebrated Aluminum Wars. There were, in fact, three Aluminum wars.  All three occurred during the free-for-all after the Soviet Union collapsed.

Two gangster/oligarchs who emerged victorious from the Aluminum Wars have close  business ties with Donald Trump. One, Dmitry Rybolovlev, paid Donald Trump almost $100 million –twice what it was worth– for a mansion that had seen better days on the ocean in Palm Beach.

Oleg Deripaska, the other gangster/oligarch who emerged victorious from the Aluminum Wars, paid Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort— for unspecified services—$18 million dollars. Deripaska, or “Oleg the Oligarch,” as I call him, owned a mansion in Washington D.C.  that was right next door to that of Trump Press Secretary Kellyanne Conway.

Small world.

Back to “Red Eye.” He was the first Russian hacker named by the FBI in their probe of Russian hacking in the 2016 Presidential election.

Back in 2003-2004,  ‘Red Eye” was in business with Tampa Mobster Michael J. Muzio, whose record label ‘Blue Moon Group’ was a subsidiary of Adnan Khashoggi’s GenesisIntermedia.

Did Jesus have an alias?

Two days after 9/11, in inimitable British tabloid style, London’s Mirror TV filmed a segment at the Venice Airport slugged: “IN THE COCKPIT WHERE A HIJACKER LEARNED TO FLY!”

“THIS is the cockpit of the light aircraft in which hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi learned to fly,” the Mirror’s American correspondent told British viewers.

“Under the guidance of instructor Mark Mickart I went through the same pre-flight checks and maneuvers on the white single-engine Cessna 172 that terrorists Atta and Al-Shehhi did on July 9.”

Oddly enough, in stories about AGAPE’S plane burning three months ago, the chief pilot’s name is also Mark Mikarts.

“Pilot Mikarts also flies out of the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport for a Christian missionary group called Agape Flights, which describe themselves as an independent ministry fighting disease, poverty and illiteracy by serving missionaries in the Western hemisphere and beyond. They have been running a weekly flight down and back to the Dominican Republic for over twenty years.”

Even more oddly, Mark Mikarts was Mohamed Atta’s flight instructor at Huffman Aviation.

But what went well beyond any possible definition of “odd” was this: Mark Mikarts used to be someone else.

His given name was Mark Wierdak. The only relative of his I could locate was his half-sister, who worked in the British consulate in Venezuela. When I asked her about her ‘flight instructor’ brother’s new name, she said, “We use to share the same father.”

That was all she’d say.

It goes without saying that American pilots flying missionary flights back and forth across the Caribbean Basin have not been known to use aliases.

“Being connected means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Another core member of Sarasota’s ‘hyena pack’ was crooked stock manipulator Jonathon Curshen, a dual U.S.-U.K. national operating out of Costa Rica and said to be working for the Israelis.

Mike Muzio was in business with all of them. For example, a stock scam led by Steve Bannon partner Andy Badolato. Muzio got 13 years in prison.

Curshen’s Red Sea Management provided the cash that bought a Khashoggi-backed company called SkyWay Aircraft, a drug plane, a DC-9 (N900SA),according to the company’s own press release.

The DC-9 was not long thereafter busted at an airport in the Yucatan, carrying 5.5 tons of cocaine, at that time a record Mexican drug seizure on an airplane.  SkyWay’s headquarters—which we’ll hear much more later— was just 50 miles north of Sarasota.

Curshen also led an effort to protect a company owned by Russian Mob Boss Semion Mogilevich from being seized by the FBI.

More than a decade before the 2016 election, Pavel “Red Eye” Vrublevsky was in business—sharing the same address—with  Blue Moon Group Inc,  a company led by Tampa Mobster Mike Muzio, who will later be convicted of financial fraud in a scheme led by Steve Bannon lieutenant Andrew Badolato.

Vrublevsky’s company,  RE Partners LLC (“RE” for “Red Eye”) listed it’s address as 158-49 90th St, a single-family residence in Howard Beach. Red Eye’s Russian hackers shared this address with Muzio’s Blue Moon Group, involved in pornography, cybercrime, and the record business.

In 2003 the notion of commerce on the internet—of paying for porn— was still relatively new. MUZIO’s Blue Moon Group was running 30-40 Mob-owned porn sites.  “Red Eye” supported the Tampa mobster by handling the porn site’s back-end, through his company Chronopay, a low-rent Russian PayPal.

Adnan Khashoggi was a brilliant world-class financial criminal, a Saudi Lex Luther. His colorful crew included his lieutenant, Saudi Ramy El-Batrawi, as well as the former personal secretary of disgraced financial fraudster Michael Milken.

During this same time period, he was using his company GenesisIntermedia to pull off a massive $300 million stock fraud in a scandal which became known as STOCKWALK, which resulted in the biggest American brokerage bankruptcy in American history to that date (2007).  When it was fully unraveled, Germany’s Deutsche Bank— to avoid criminal prosecution—was forced to pay a record $278 million penalty.

Khashoggi didn’t have to give back a dime.

The Palm Beach ‘homies’

Until his death several years ago, Adnan Khashoggi was a linchpin of what became known as “transnational organized crime.”

Khashoggi was also one of Donald Trump’s original “Palm Beach homies.”  Trump and Khashoggi were friends and associates for decades. Khashoggi wintered in Palm Beach. Khashoggi went to two of The Donald’s weddings. When Khashoggi ran short of cash, he sold Trump, at a bargain-basement price, his magnificent 280-foot yacht, Nabila.

By that time, Saudi arms merchant Adnan Khashoggi had decades-long roots in American scandals.

Operating out of this one crime ring in Sarasota with Khashoggi were Tampa Mobster Mike Muzio, Russian hacker Pavel “Red Eye” Vrublevsky, dual U.S.-U.K. national Jonathon Curshen, and Steve Bannon’s alt-right lieutenant Andrew Badolato. Bannon was in there, too.

The men participated together in financial fraud for more than a decade. It eventually sent Muzio to prison for 13 years, and Curshen for what was announced to be twenty years.

This list will quickly grow longer.

These men belonged to a charmed circle of criminals who got a ‘high sign’ from and law enforcement officials America’s fiscal watchdogs to “back up a truck.”

They looted with impunity.

“Hyena pack” explained

Today a computer server that was breached by Russian hackers during the 2016 presidential campaign sits on display at Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in Washington, beside a filing cabinet broken into in 1972 as part of the Watergate burglary.

The owner of a company tracking hyena pack crime rings for disgruntled investors whose stock had suddenly become worthless, explained,

“In large publicly-held companies, stockholder fraud and looting is by people working together inside the company.”

“Smaller publicly-held companies are looted by people who comprise what’s called a ‘hyena pack.’ Publicly each member acts as a representative of companies and entities which are supposedly independent of each other. At the same time, they are secretly conspiring together for criminal gain.”

“Very small publicly-held companies can be looted by people controlling other small companies.”

“Hyena packs” are not known to impose strict ideological requirements on members of their crews.

The “hyena pack” in Sarasota did.

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist and the author of two books on transnational crime, Welcome to Terrorland and Barry & the Boys.

One thought on “NARCO-POLITIK: “Mafia Shipping Company’, Follow The Money To Sarasota, Florida – By Daniel Hopsicker

  1. A book by Paul L. Williams, OPERATION GLADIO documents The UNHOLY ALLIANCE between THE VATICAN, THE CIA, and THE MAFIA.
    Since WWII, the Vatican has laundered Mafia & CIA dirty money for a minimum 15% cut.

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