Venice Municipal Airport Edit
Almost since its inception, the specter of heroin trafficking has hung over the airfield which would later become the Venice Municipal Airport.
During World War II, when it was known as the Venice Army Air Field, it was home to the Stateside operations of a man widely and credibly accused of using proceeds from international heroin trafficking to prop up the war machine of a corrupt Chinese warlord whose army, even after its defeat, hung on to a lion's share of Southeast Asian real estate which became known as the Golden Triangle.
Contemporary newspaper clips from the time show that the Venice Airport has had an extraordinary six-decade long history, and been the scene of covert activities including gunrunning, international heroin and cocaine trafficking, and being used as a launch pad for coups in the Caribbean and Central America.
These activities required, available evidence will show, the regular and systematic corruption of officials in Venice and Sarasota County.
The recent infamous and still-painful history of the Venice Airport, home base for Mohamed Atta and his crew of terrorist hijackers, it turns out, is just the most recent in an extraordinary history of elite deviance, criminal mischief, and international intrigue.
Since the early days of the Second World War, when it was still known as Venice Army Air Field, the pattern of covert activity at the Venice Airport has remained remarkably consistent over six decades.
Ironically, it was an attempt to continue to conceal the airport's original mission, an elaborate cover-up in 1992 seemingly designed to prevent the airport’s clandestine role from ever becoming public knowledge, which first piqued our interest in the story of the man whose operations shaped the Venice Airport's early history.
But the cover-up backfired, and became visible, where it remains to this day, in an unlikely location:
Directly across from the Venice Airport sits an historical plaque dedicated in a ceremony in 1992 to commemorate the airport’s beginnings as a U.S. Army Air Base during World War II.
The Venice Airport, states the plaque, has its origins in the early days of WW2, when it was known as the “337th Army Air Field Base.”
However there is no such entity: there is not, and never has been, anything called the 337th Army Air Field Base. At the inception of what became the Venice Airport, as is fairly widely known, it was known as the Venice Army Air Force Base.
"The plaque commemorates the 337th Army Air Field Base and was erected by the Venice Aviation Society Inc. in October 1992. The plaque has numerous errors including referring to the Base as the 337th and the entire second sentence. The caricatured mosquito, symbolic of the striking power of the P-51 and of the bloodthirsty pests of the area, was designed by Capt. James H. Archibald as the ”official” insignia of the ”337th AAF Base Unit”, the VAAF’s permanent ”Party” outfit. Both the insignia and unit designation were intended as a joke!"
We've never heard of an official historical plaque “intended as a joke,” and doubt anyone at the Venice Archives and Area Historical Collection has, either.
Moreover the point of the "joke," and/or why it should be considered funny, remains unexplained.
There was a 337th Fighter Group. The famous Flying Tigers.
They were first known as the American Volunteer Group, states an informational wall of photos on the second floor of the nearly empty Clearwater St. Petersburg International Airport, where they used to train.
They were a "band of American pilots who literally built a fighting air force from scratch to stop the Japanese from gobbling up all of Asia."
One of their units, the wall indicates, is the 337th Fighter Group.
Was the 337th Army Air Field plaque in Venice some kind of cryptic reference to the Flying Tigers?
Synonymous with the Flying Tigers is the name of General Claire Chennault. While he lived, Chennault was one of the most controversial American military figures in this nation's history.
Chennault helped Chinese warlord Chiang Kai-Shek fund his civil war against the Communist Red Army through heroin trafficking, both during, and after World War II
General Claire Chennault's Flying Tigers had a strong presence in Venice.
We found numerous newspaper references from the time indicating that the Venice Army Air Field was used to train pilots for General Claire Chennault's Flying Tigers and later for his 14th Air Force, which took over from the Flying Tigers when they were disbanded.
In fact, Venice seemed to specialize in Chinese flyers, even training an all-Chinese squadron for Chennault, supposedly at the express request of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek.
Moreover one of Chennault's aces, Pappy Herb's, left China to became the Deputy Base Commander at the Venice Army Air Field.
New Owners Edit
Seventy years after elements of the U.S. military connected with the “China Lobby” began a long flirtation with heroin trafficking, Venice still serves that purpose.
The story of Claire Chennault proves that U.S. Major Generals can be excused if they have a second job as an international drug kingpin... as long as they're anti-communist.
What makes the story of General Claire Chennault at the Venice Airport germane to the present situation? The new owners of the former Huffman Aviation are in business with a private military contractor in Georgia who was involved in extraordinary renditions for the CIA.
Curiously, former Huffman owner Wally Hilliard was in business with the same man.
But then, recent owners of Huffman Aviation share a lot in common.
Just like prior owner Wally Hilliard (but even more inexplicably, since at least Hilliard was a pilot, even if a narcoleptic one), Art Nadel, for example, used substantial portions of his ill-gotten gains to purchase dozens of airplanes and aviation facilities...
The Bust Edit
The pre-existing criminal network in Venice is not a factor in the story of the 9/11 attack; the fact that Venice Florida is home base for Mohamed Atta’s terrorist cadre is nothing but mere happenstance.
Frederic Geffon in St. Petersburg Florida owns 5.5 tons of cocaine. At least, he owns Royal Sons Inc., and through some sleight-of-hand the bankruptcy trustee calls illegal, he’s also got a plane, a DC9 (N900SA).
Airport officials at St. Petersburg-Clearwater Intl Airport are instructed not to let the plane take off. But Geffon has friends in the tower, friends in high places. The plane takes off anyway, and leaves the country. So far so good!
Five days later his plane gets busted. 5.5 tons of cocaine just happens to be on his plane. Oops!
Geffen’s company is located at 224 E Airport Ave in Venice, the hangar where Huffman Aviation, right next door, parks its planes. Huffman Aviation’s owner, of course, is Wally Hilliard, a retired insurance executive from Green Bay Wisconsin.
Three weeks after Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi begin training at Wally Hilliard’s flight school, Wally faces a “spot of bother.”
His Learjet is confiscated by DEA agents at Orlando Executive Airport. They find 43 lbs. of heroin onboard. Oops! After that, they won’t give Wally back his plane.
A federal judge won’t either. The judge rules that Wally is not an “innocent owner.”
But things have not gone completely dark for Wally Hilliard... He doesn’t go to prison! How many guys whose plane gets busted with 43 lbs. of heroin can say that?
For that matter, Frederic Geffon doesn’t go to prison either.
Military to train at Venice Airport
Air Force, Army and FAA personnel will conduct their joint anti-terrorist mission Thursday.
By RODNEY CROUTHER Published: Friday, June 7, 2002 at 7:01 a.m. Last Modified: Friday, June 7, 2002 at 12:00 a.m. VENICE -- Venice Airport, the training ground for three of the terrorists involved in the hijackings of Sept. 11, will be the scene next week of military training in how to respond to a terrorist threat from a small aircraft.
Air Force, Army and Federal Aviation Administration personnel will conduct their joint anti-terrorist mission at the airport Thursday.
Air Force spokesman Maj. Don Arias said the exercise, officially known as "Amalgam Virgo," will focus on "interagency communication, air control and coordinating our responses to a threat."
Operation Amalgam Virgo was planned before the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Arias said.
"We were preparing for aviation terrorism already," he said. "We just finished a simulation of a terrorist hijacking of a passenger airliner. Now we're doing small aircraft."
For reasons of security, he said, Arias would not disclose how many military and FAA personnel will be at the airport or involved in the operation.
He did confirm that it will be a "live-fly" exercise, involving Air Force planes. Arias would not say whether military aircraft would be on the ground in Venice.
Local law enforcement and fire officials will not be directly involved.
"We'll be around to provide any additional traffic control, if they need it, but it will just be a military operation," said city spokesman Pam Johnson.
The training is not expected to disrupt either local road traffic or aviation activity.
"Nothing will be shut down, as far as I know," airport manager Larry Heath said. "Most of their activity here will be on the ground."
Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi took flying lessons at Huffman Aviation, a Venice Airport flight school, from July 2000 to January 2001.
How many guys with a plane busted with 5.5 tons of cocaine can say that?