The arena and stadium complex campaign is in full swing. Columbus Dispatch headlines touted contribution after contribution from major Columbus-based corporations the last few weeks. On Tuesday, January 28, the Dispatch juxtaposed the two following headlines on page one: “Kasich setting his sights on corporate welfare” and “Gift meets goal for complex.” A $17.5 million pledge from Nationwide Insurance, plus previous pledges of $35 million from Bank One and $5 million from Worthington Industries brought the private sector gifts for the arena/stadium project to $57.5 million. These highly hailed corporate gifts constitute only about 20 percent of the estimated project costs.
Arena and stadium complex foe Richard Sheir found this headline combination ironic, to say the least. He believes that the project’s funding represents robbing the poor and schoolchildren and ultimately giving to the rich, the wealthy sports team owners.

In Sheir’s analysis the arena/stadium project is “corporate welfare” in its most blatant form, and he’s using the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority’s own numbers to prove his case to the public. He argues that the 80 percent of the public funding comes from perhaps the most “regressive” form of taxation-the sales tax. According to Sheir, an individual’s gross income is $9,000 or less, an absurdly high 8.5 percent of it will be eaten up by the sales tax increase under normal spending conditions. By contrast, this translates into only 1.2 percent of the incomes of the wealthiest fifth of the population. Sheir bases his conclusions on income and expenditure figures released by the state annually.

Sheir said that the public should look at the recent “corporate gifts” as little more than a transfer of funds from local school districts to the arena/stadium project. “Let’s be honest, they’re taking from the schools and giving to the arena and stadium.” Sheir explained that the now-infamous 75 percent, 10-year tax abatement granted to Banc One by the Olentangy School District that amounts to $12 million lost to the school district over 10 years, is one of the reasons why Banc One can give $35 million over 18 years to put its name on the stadium. Banc One reported a $1.43 billion profit in its last tax statement. Sheir pointed out, “Why do they need to do this to their community? This question needs to be asked.” He also noted that Nationwide was a past recipient of a large tax break as well.

Cliff Wiltshire, the assistant managing editor of Suburban News Publications, made the same argument in a December 25 column. “By agreeing to relocate to an otherwise undesirable location at Polaris (sarcasm yellow alert) the financially struggling company (sarcasm red alert!) was granted a 75 percent tax abatement on property improvements for 10 years. Instead of shelling out an estimated $1.6 million annually-most into the Olentangy school district coffers-Banc One will pay about $400,000 per year.”

Sheir stressed that a close reading of the convention authority’s own numbers does not stand up to scrutiny. “It’s totally outrageous to have a $15 million slush fund from taxpayer’s dollars that’s going to go to some wealthy owner,” he commented. His reference to the $14,755,000 Operating Reserves projection can be found on page 118 of the Multi-purpose and Sports Facilities Work Group Report issued December 14, 1995.

“If you’re projecting over half a million dollars in profit the first year, why would you need $15 million in operating reserves?” asked Sheir. “It’s ludicrous; I suspect it’s really a hidden ‘locator fee,’ masquerading as ‘operating reserve,’ to lure some franchise.” Sheir predicted that the “revenue streams” such as concession sales and parking fees will be “stripped away just like they were at Cleveland’s Gateway Stadium” to lure some professional sports owners or league to relocate in Columbus. He contended that instead of the money from parking and concessions going back into the arena/stadium project, it’ll be diverted to the pockets of the owners. “They’re not bonding the parking garage. Why? Why not pay for it over time if there’s a steady revenue stream as they project? I’ll tell you why. Because I suspect they want it as an enticement to give to whatever franchise will locate here,” Sheir said.

Already, sports entrepreneur Lamar Hunt, Columbus businessmen Ron Pizzuti and John H. McConnell, Wolfe Enterprises, and Ameritech have formed an investment group attempting to acquire a National Hockey League expansion team for Columbus. Brian Fitzgerald, director of internal affairs for Ameritech, told the Dispatch: “Because you don’t have the building yet in Columbus, we can’t give them much, other than to say we’ll negotiate a good one,” in reference to a team lease of the proposed arena.

Sheir also suggested that two investors in potential arena/stadium land appear to have a good deal going. Colomet, Inc. and C.P.-Maple Street are apparently the big winners in the land acquisition game. Both bought the land right after the last arena proposal was turned down by voters a decade ago. A tour of the site shows that the vast majority of the land is currently being used as pay-in-advance parking lots.

Colomet was incorporated in 1962 and is a real estate subsidiary of Columbus Southern Power, according to John DiLorenzo of American Electric Power. The property is adjacent to the AEP headquarters on Front Street.

The arena and stadium are budgeted for $2.5 million apiece in “Site Development Costs.” Curiously, the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority, established by the Franklin County Commissioners, has given the joint arena/stadium project a bizarrely low overrun estimate, Sheir emphasized. “Their Project Contingency is only 4 percent. It’s right on page 115. Remember, they [Franklin County Commissioners] estimated the Franklin County jail at $2.2 million and they’re now at $12 million. That’s closer to 600 percent.”

Perhaps most frightening, in Sheir’s view, is the “field of dreams” nature of the project. The numbers being tossed around by arena/stadium advocates from the Deloitte & Touche Economic Impact Report are based on the following assumptions: that the fledgling Major League Soccer (MLS) will survive, and that Columbus will obtain both a Canadian Football League (CFL) franchise and a National Hockey League franchise. These are big “build it and they will come” assumptions.

And what if they don’t? Sheir has the answer. “Read their own report. They’ll be losing a million to a million four-hundred thousand dollars a year hosting high school sporting events and band competitions.”

Columbus Alive Archive Article

The gatekeepers (Bail bonds)
The gatekeepers
Striking it rich in the bail bond business

by Bob Fitrakis

Despite a city ordinance prohibiting the soliciting of business by bail bondsmen, “in or around any court or public place,” a month-long investigation by Columbus Alive revealed that the law is routinely ignored. One firm, SMD & HLS Bonding Company, appears to be running its business from the “interview” room next to arraignment Courtroom 4D in the Municipal Court building. SMD & HLS bail bonders linger in the hall and sit in the back of the court and appear to be soliciting business.

The so-called public “interview” room appears to function as a high-powered office for the SMD & HLS Bonding Company, listed in the yellow pages as four different firms: Handler Bonding, Lowell Fox, Sam English and A-Aa Absolute Bail Bonds. Still appearing in the yellow pages entry is a photo of Sam English, who has been dead for several years. As of the writing of this article, the woman who answers the phone at the Sam English firm tells callers that Mr. English “isn’t in.”

Although the courthouse is a no-smoking public building, smoke wafts from the interview room when the door is opened as bail bondsmen hustle family and friends of defendants from the arraignment court to their office equipped with phones and a criss-cross phone directory. As one highly placed law-enforcement source put it, “It’s the old adage. The best place to hide illegal activity is out in the open.”

A non-Handler bondsman pointed out what he saw as an analogous situation. In 1990, the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline of the Supreme Court of Ohio suspended Judge Ralph D. Dye Jr. of McConnelsville for using public space to conduct private business. The board labeled his free-rent arrangement at the courthouse “inexcusable, unfair to other attorneys and unethical.”

In a letter dated November 21, 1996, in response to a public records request, Municipal Clerk of Courts Paul Herbert, stated: “I have not been designated, nor do I have any authority to enforce the use of the conference room next to Court Room 4D. …The rules for the use of the room have been clearly posted on the door.”

Asked if his bondsmen are soliciting business on the fourth floor, Handler said in a telephone interview: “Totally untrue. I don’t need to solicit. I’ve been in business 25 years. I advertise. People refer other people to me.”

Are his bondsmen running a business out of the Interview room next to 4D? “No,” Handler responded.

Most court officials say that the interview room is set up to serve lawyers and their clients for privileged private discussion. On three different occasions, when Columbus Alive watched the Interview Room, the only people inside were bail bondsmen. The rules, according to a non-Handler bondsman, are “first-come, first-serve. But, it’s like the Old West. [Handler]’s got Woody Fox, a retired Columbus police officer working as a bondsman. He’s got Al Clark, former chief deputy at the sheriff’s department, and when you go up there, Handler’s got the nerve to tell you that you’re not supposed to be there. ‘No soliciting.’ So now I just sit by the phone and wait for people to call for bonds. It’s cheaper. Everyone over there has their palms out; if you pay one, you’ve got to pay ’em all.”

Handler now appears to be the top gun, but not after a fight—literally. In 1994, the Columbus Dispatch reported that “Bondsman Jack Bates said his nose was bloodied and his face bruised when Mark Glaser, a bondsman with Harvey Handler’s bail bonding agency, struck him in the face on the fourth floor of the Franklin County Municipal Court.”

Ironically, bail bondsmen were supposed to be a thing of the past. In 1972, Ohio Chief Justice C. William O’Neill attacked the Ohio General Assembly for yielding to “pressure from bail bondsmen in rejecting rules for criminal procedure” reforms proposed by the Ohio Supreme Court in January of ’72. In a Dispatch article, O’Neill stated that, “In 90 percent of the cases the bail bondsman renders no service and takes no risk, but keeps his profit.”

By 1974, the Franklin County Municipal Court initiated its Pre-Trial Release Program (PTRP) in hopes of eliminating the need for costly and often unnecessary bond fees in most criminal cases. The era of reform is long over in the Franklin County Municipal Court. Herbert acknowledges in his letter that between January 1, 1996 and September 30, 1996 SMD & HLS Bonding Company wrote far more bonds in Municipal Court than any other firm. The breakdown is as follows: SMD & HLS Bonding Company – 3411; Columbus Bail Bonds – 891; Chuck Brown Bail Bond Agency – 603; International Bonds – 424; Bates Bonding – 52; American Bail Bond Agency – 15; other – 75.

Whether it’s legal or not is a question few judges or court officials care to probe. A cozy relationship exists between bail bondsman Harvey Handler—who manages or controls the four different bail bonding agencies in Columbus—and judges, Clerk of Court officials and court employees. Handler is a major political contributor to judicial and Clerk of Court office candidates and sometimes generous benefactor to court employees.

“Handler runs the fourth floor,” said former bail bondsman Bill Neil. “It’s a protected racket. The reason they like the fourth floor of Muni Court is because the felons are initially arraigned there, even though they’re tried in Common Pleas.

“It’s easy money. They can bail somebody out and they know the charges will be dropped within two weeks in Municipal Court because they have to be tried in Common Pleas. They’re just taking people’s money with no risk involved,” explained Neil.

Neil claims he went “broke in the business. Every two weeks, when the clerks didn’t get paid, I had to spend $50 or $60 to get pizzas…. And I had to give a security guard 30 bucks to pass out my business card.”

Under the current system, for example, if you are arrested for felonious assault and your bond is set at $5,000, you must pay 10 percent, or $500, to the court for an “appearance bond” or $500 to a bail bondsman for a “surety” bond. In the case of an appearance bond, you would get all but 10 percent ($450) back when you appear in court. With a surety bond from a bail bondsman, you would get nothing back when you appear at trial. But if you paid a surety bond and failed to show at trial, the bondsman is legally liable for the entire $5,000 bond.

The type of bonds are set at the judge’s discretion. Judges may also set recognizance bonds and release the defendant without posting any cash.

“Judges vary greatly. When I was in the business, if [Municipal Court Judge] Anne Taylor was on the bench doing arraignments, we took the week off,” Neil explained.

Curiously, Criminal Rule 46 of Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure concerning the “Pre-trial release in felony cases,” provides that judges should use “personal recognizance” or an “unsecured appearance bond” as the “preferred method of release.” But few judges besides Taylor appear to follow it.

Since the Municipal Court cannot try felony cases, arrested felons are seen by municipal judges primarily for the setting of bond. Court records indicate that arrested felons are routinely arraigned and bonded on the fourth floor of the Municipal Court building and, just as routinely, the charges are dismissed a short time later. Defendants are told that the case will “be dismissed for possible future indictment.”

A grand jury later meets in the Common Pleas Court and holds a hearing. If an indictment is handed up, a summons is usually issued for a Common Pleas court appearance. Thus, what the bail bondsmen know is that there is little or no risk involved in forfeiting a surety bond in Municipal Court since the charges against the defendants will be dismissed. “It’s a scam,” as one bondsman put it. By not carrying over the bonds from the Municipal Court arraignments of felons to Common Pleas Court cases, Handler and other bondsmen are regularly pocketing thousands of dollars in risk-free money. And defendants are often surprised when they are required to repost bond money when they are summoned to Common Pleas Court.

If Municipal Clerk of Courts Herbert, “wanted to put his foot down, he could end this practice tomorrow,” said a S. High Street bondsman critical of Handler. “I’ve practiced in Marion County, Delaware County, Madison County and Franklin County. This is the only place that allows this to go on,” he added.

Herbert, who is up for re-election this year, is on record defending the practices of his court. “…You must realize that surety bonds provide a valuable service to the criminal justice system. Not only do you have agents with a vested interest in catching and returning defendants to court to stand trial for their conduct, but the court holds the security (in the form of a power) that can be executed against for the amount of the bond if the defendant does not return or the agent does not pay the bond.”

Herbert pointed out in a telephone interview Monday that the interview room is “open to the public, attorneys and bondsmen.” While his office is on the fourth floor, he said he was unaware of any soliciting of business by bondsmen. “I have no idea; I don’t police those rooms.” He suggested that Administrative Judge David Fais or Building Manager Bill Charlton would be responsible. “I try to stay out of that area,” Herbert added.

Asked about his relationship with Handler, Herbert acknowledged that Handler is a political contributor to Herbert and other judges and court-related officials, but not a “big donor.” Herbert did term Handler “very supportive” of his own political campaign.

Both Neil and other bondsmen charge that the Clerk’s office allows another infamous “rip-off” of criminal defendants. All bonds include an additional fee collected for the Victims of Crime Fund and the Public Defender’s Office. In felony cases, this amounts to $41: $30 to the Victim’s Fund and $11 to the Public Defenders. When cases are dismissed, or defendants are found not guilty, the money is returned to the bondsman who posted it, not to the defendant who supplied the cash. Legally, the money belongs to the defendants, but all too frequently, bondsmen fail to return the money and pocket it as pure profit. With no court enforcement to return the funds, the bail bondsmen benefit. “Money for nothing,” one bondsman explained. Neil pointed out that since most of the defendants are poor and uneducated, they are “easy marks” who don’t understand the legal system and are unlikely to protest the practice. Plus, their reputation as suspected criminals does not garner much sympathy for their plight.

Asked if the bondsmen are essentially taking defendants’ money twice, Herbert responded, “I suppose they would [be]. You need to ask the prosecutors, they’re the ones that dismiss the cases.”

According to a 1994 Dispatch article, 1,279 defendants released on surety bonds set in Municipal Court skipped bond. Neil and other bail bondsmen charge that Municipal Clerk of Court Herbert and Franklin County Clerk of Courts Jesse Oddi show favoritism to Handler’s firms. “Hell, when I had to pay a bond for a skip, the deputy clerks used to joke that ‘Handler’s guys are never down here,’” said Neil.

The Dispatch article also reported that: “In reality, court officials say more than half of bond forfeitures are set aside by judges. They may forgive the debt at their discretion.” Court records obtained by Columbus Alive indicate that court officials seem to be more forgiving for the Handler firms than others. Take the case of Dean Hinchee, arrested in 1991. Handler posted a $3,500 surety bonded for Hinchee on November 11, 1991. When Hinchee failed to show on January 28, 1992, Handler had 30 days to produce him or forfeit the bond. In a November 1996 billing to the SMD & HLS Bonding Company, a Dean Hinchere is listed instead of Hinchee. Although the names are spelled differently, Alive has obtained copies showing that the case numbers are the same: 29681. In the ’96 Handler billing the court requests only $350 from SMD & HLS Bonding when the full amount that should have been forfeited by Handler in 1992 for Hinchee’s court skip is $3,500.

Either by accident or design, Franklin County Courts are apparently shaving a zero off of Handler’s bond forfeiture bills, in effect billing one of the court’s major political donors at only 10 percent of the amount due.

Asked about the apparent shaving, Herbert said, “It’s currently being litigated” and refused further comment.

Asked about the allegations that bills are being shaved, Handler answered: “Totally incorrect. It doesn’t deserve a response. My attorneys are dealing with it.”

When probed about allegations that court employees have accepted gratuities from Handler and other bail bondsmen, Herbert said, “I don’t think that’s going on; if it is, they need to knock it off. We’re not supposed to be taking anything of value; but it’s a gray area of the law.” Herbert pointed out that, unless there was a quid pro quo, a gift for service, any gratuities or perks provided court officials by bondsmen probably aren’t illegal. “We should avoid the appearance of impropriety, and I’ve instructed my people not to accept any gifts.”

The billing of bondsmen seems to be a haphazard system. Herbert and his deputy clerks reportedly have busied themselves of late putting records into “storage.” This may make it all the more difficult to account for the total amount of forfeited bonds owed the Municipal Court by bond firms. In an independent audit by KPMG Peat Marwick LLP for the period January 1, 1994 through December 31, 1994, the report states that the Municipal Court practices “other than generally accepted accounting principles.” In a June 25, 1996 letter, State Auditor Jim Petro—currently lobbying to head the U.S. General Accounting Office—”accepted” the KPMG report “in lieu of the audit required by Section 117.11 Revised Code.” Petro noted “The Auditor of State did not audit the accompanying financial statements and accordingly, we are unable to express, and do not express an opinion on them.”

The obvious beneficiaries of such a system are not the public or poor and uneducated defendants and their families and friends, but the incumbent judges and clerk candidates who receive political donations, and the bonding companies who benefit from court officials’ lack of oversight.

Orig Published Columbus Alive 4-22-1999

Spook Air
by Bob Fitrakis

Something’s rotten at Rickenbacker Port Authority. Maybe it’s just the stench of the bankrupt corpse of Southern Air Transport, or the moldering smell of the $3 million the state pumped into the notorious airline before it folded.

Ohio taxpayers are among the more than 800 creditors now lined up to file claims against “Spook Air.” SAT filed for bankruptcy in Columbus on October 1, 1998, the same day the Central Intelligence Agency Inspector General issued a report linking the cargo hauler to allegations of drug-running in connection with U.S.-backed Contra rebels in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

Once lauded as a coup for central Ohio development, landing Southern Air Transport’s business at Rickenbacker eventually turned into a nightmare, as the enterprise became mired in massive debt and was closed under a cloud of suspicion about its true activities. Just how and why one of the world’s most notorious airlines ended up in Columbus in the mid-1990s is a story that hasn’t been fully examined until now.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Columbus Alive obtained a massive number of documents from the Rickenbacker Port Authority and additional records from the Ohio Department of Development showing that the Franklin County Commissioners and the Voinovich administration offered hard-to-refuse incentives to get SAT’s business, despite the airline’s shady history.

“We are proud of Rickenbacker’s growth and believe the addition of Southern Air Transport would represent a significant step forward,” Franklin County Commissioner Arlene Shoemaker wrote Southern Air President William G. Langton in January 1995. SAT officials pitched a proposal involving the construction of a 180,000-square-foot corporate headquarters and air-maintenance facility on leased land in the Rickenbacker Air Industrial Park. They projected the total cost of the project at more than $36 million, and predicted the creation of 300 new jobs within a three-year period.

“I will need and look forward to help from the State of Ohio, the Port Authority, Franklin County, the City of Columbus, the Chamber of Commerce and any other groups or individuals you would suggest, to help effectuate a seamless move to Columbus, Ohio, and the Rickenbacker International Airport,” wrote Langton in a February 14, 1995, letter to the port authority’s Executive Director Bruce Miller. A “seamless move,” in Langton’s estimation, would cost $3 million.

The port authority and the Ohio Department of Development, under the aegis of Governor George Voinovich’s then-Chief of Staff Paul Mifsud, developed an attractive incentive package for SAT. The state development department agreed to provide SAT with a low-interest $6 million loan. The department promised an additional half-million dollars from a Business Development Capital Account to defray the cost of “eligible equipment associated with the project.” The Ohio Department of Transportation agreed to enter into a lease to support $10.2 million in Certificates of Participation to enable Rickenbacker to make “necessary taxi-way and parking improvements to allow SAT to locate in the park,” according to an SAT document. Such airport improvements are usually funded by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The document goes on to spell out that “the Rickenbacker Port Authority has committed approximately $600,000 to fund other public infrastructure improvements associated with the project… In addition, the port authority has also agreed to make available to SAT up to $30 million in port authority revenue bonds for eligible project related costs.” The SAT document noted that, “Franklin County has also committed to granting a 100 percent abatement for 15 years on real property improvements under Ohio’s Community Reinvestment Area Law.”

Shadowy ties to Ohio

News accounts show that The Limited owner Leslie Wexner played a role in SAT’s relocation to Rickenbacker. Two other key figures in the SAT story have Columbus connections: Alan D. Fiers Jr., a starting tackle on the 1961 Ohio State University football team and a Buckeye assistant coach in 1962, who later became the chief of the CIA Central American Task Force; and retired Air Force Major General Richard Secord, head of air logistics for the CIA-owned Air America’s covert action in Laos between 1966 and 1968, and air logistics coordinator in the illegal Contra resupply network for Oliver North in the ’80s.

Both Fiers and Secord eventually were found guilty of charges in connection with the Iran-Contra affair. On July 9, 1991, Fiers pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges involving illegally supplying weapons to the Contras. According to the recent CIA report on Southern Air Transport, Fiers informed U.S. Senate investigators that the CIA told the DEA early on about Contra leaders being involved in drug smuggling. Secord, who is a 1954 graduate of Columbus’ South High School, pleaded guilty in 1989 to a felony charge in connection with the cover-up of the Iran-Contra affair.

While SAT was busy setting up offices in central Ohio, the CIA was linking the airline to illicit activities. The October 1998 CIA report on Southern Air Transport says that as early as January 21, 1987, the customs office in New Orleans was investigating an allegation of drug trafficking by SAT crew members. The 1987 memorandum noted that the source of the allegation was a senior FDN (Contra) official, and indicated that the official was concerned that “scandal emanating from Southern Air Transport could rebound badly on FDN interest including humanitarian aid from the United States.”

The memo continues, “A February 23, 1991, DEA [Drug Enforcement Agency] cable to CIA linked SAT to drug trafficking. The cable reported that SAT was `of record’ in DEA’s database from January 1985-September 1990 for alleged involvement in cocaine trafficking. An August 1990 entry in DEA’s database reportedly alleged that $2 million was delivered to the firm’s business sites and several of the firm’s pilots and executives were suspected of smuggling `narcotics currency.'”

How did such a notorious company come to set up shop in central Ohio? Perhaps it was the efforts of Langton to keep the airline’s history in intelligence operations at arm’s length that assured Ohio officials of SAT’s success. In March 1995, Langton told the Columbus Dispatch that his company was “no longer connected to the CIA.”

“Too good to turn down”

It remains unclear exactly why Franklin County Commissioners were so willing to bring the scandal-ridden airline to central Ohio. Commissioner Dorothy Teater, currently running for mayor of Columbus, told Columbus Alive this month that she was not aware of Southern Air’s ties to the CIA. “If it’s true, that’s awful,” she said, adding the push to land SAT in Ohio came from the state Department of Development. “We commissioners were an afterthought. They asked us at the last second to sit in the audience at the press conference.”

When asked last week if she was aware of SAT’s past CIA links or allegations of drug running, Commissioner Shoemaker answered, “Certainly not.”

Documents obtained by Columbus Alive show that local officials did not balk at the notion of an enterprise at one time linked to drug smuggling and covert operations worldwide setting up shop here. They were apparently willing to overlook any danger signals in an effort to please local commercial enterprises that might benefit from SAT business. In 1996, SAT spokesperson David Sweet told Columbus Alive the airline moved to Ohio because “the deal [put together by the development department] was too good to turn down.”

The Franklin County Commissioners created the Rickenbacker Port Authority (RPA) in 1979 in order to utilize excess military land at Rickenbacker Air Force Base for industrial, distribution and air cargo purposes. In February 1992, the county commissioners created a Community Reinvestment Area for five years, making the Rickenbacker Port Authority a lucrative investment zone.

In a 1994 corporate report, which Columbus Alive retrieved from the Rickenbacker Port Authority’s files, Langton downplayed the airline’s controversial past and its crucial role in the Iran-Contra scandal, describing it as “an all-cargo airline operating schedule, charter and wetlease service for shippers, freight forwarders, the Department of Defense, relief organizations and individual customers around the world.”

On April 13, 1994, William B. Holley, executive vice president for economic development for the Columbus Chamber of Commerce, wrote the Ohio Job Creation Tax Credit Authority under the Ohio Department of Development, urging that the airline receive tax credits for relocating from Miami, Florida, to Rickenbacker International Airport in Columbus.

Edmund James, president of James and Donohew Development Services, told the Columbus Dispatch that negotiations with Southern Air had begun “exactly one year ago today,” speaking at the March 16, 1995, press conference announcing that SAT was locating to Columbus. He let it be known that “much of the Hong Kong-to-Rickenbacker cargo will be for The Limited.” James said, “This is a big story for central Ohio. It’s huge, actually.”

The day following the press conference, Brian Clancy, a cargo analyst with MergeGloban Inc., was quoted in the Journal of Commerce: “Limited Inc., the nation’s largest retailer, is based in Columbus, a fact that undoubtedly contributed in large part to Southern Air’s decision.”

That same day, the Dispatch noted a meeting between Langton, Governor Voinovich and “other officials yesterday to discuss the air cargo carrier’s plans.” Governor Voinovich is quoted saying, “This will be a new window to the world for Ohio business… It will be a boon for exports.” Within a week, SAT announced it would be flying twice-weekly freighters from Hong Kong to Columbus on behalf of The Limited.

In an article titled “Touchdown in Columbus,” SAT’s company newsletter featured an artist’s rendering of the proposed state-of-the-art headquarters on its cover and lauded “the very pro-business attitude of the State of Ohio and City of Columbus.”

That pro-business attitude is evident in a 1995 letter from SAT’s Langton to the Rickenbacker Port Authority. Although in response to Alive’s records request, former Governor Voinovich’s staffers claimed no records exist linking the governor or then-Chief of Staff Mifsud to the SAT deal, a February 22, 1995, letter from SAT chief Langton to Miller of the port authority stated: “I was very pleased with my visit with Mr. Paul Mifsud and Governor Voinovich, and after meeting with the State of Ohio it is my understanding that they will make the appropriate changes in funding amounts that we require in our Response to Proposal… I would expect to have a decision on the matter on or before March 10, 1995.” Numerous other SAT correspondence were carbon-copied to Mifsud at the governor’s office.

Repeated calls and a fax sent to Senator Voinovich’s office seeking comment for this article were not answered.

The next day, a letter from Ohio Department of Development Director Donald Jakeway to Langton begins, “Pursuant to your recent meeting with this department and Paul Mifsud, we are responding with this revised commitment letter…” Jakeway outlined a “revised preliminary commitment” worth an estimated $7.2 million in services, benefits, tax credits and low-interest infrastructure loans.

Jakeway is no longer with the Department of Development and was out of the country this week and could not be reached for comment. Calls to the Department of Development for comment were not returned by presstime.

On March 16, 1995, Langton joined then-Governor Voinovich and officials from the Rickenbacker Port Authority to announce officially the relocation of SAT from Miami to Columbus. In the Columbus Dispatch’s coverage of the announcement, an exuberant Voinovich gushed, “I am extremely pleased to welcome Southern Air Transport to Ohio, as it will be the first airline to have its world headquarters located at Rickenbacker Airport. This will help Columbus tremendously in becoming a world-class inland port.”

Shoemaker, representing the Franklin County Commissioners, said, “We’re deeply grateful to the governor and all those who helped make it possible to welcome Southern Air to Franklin County.”

Langton called Rickenbacker “an opportunity waiting to happen.”

By the end of the year, Langton was not sounding quite so positive. In the SAT newsletter, he stated: “As we close out 1995, I am sorry to report that we have the first loss year in recent history for Southern Air Transport.”

Spying the friendly skies

Apparently, the airline was in better shape financially when it was engaged in covert and possibly illegal activities. Officials of SAT, which was founded in 1947, acknowledge that their airline was owned by the CIA from 1960 to 1973. In 1960, the CIA purchased SAT for $300,000 and rapidly expanded the airline’s business into the Far East and Latin America. At one point, SAT was the CIA’s largest “proprietary”–a private business owned by the CIA–with estimated assets of more than $50 million and more than 8,000 employees worldwide.

In 1973, the CIA sold SAT to “the official who had run it on behalf of the CIA, with a $5.1 million loan from First National Bank of Chicago, known to be a CIA-used bank,” according to the National Journal. The airline retained informal ties with both the CIA and the National Security Council. The current principal owner is Miami attorney James Bastian, former CIA lawyer, who chaired the investment partnership of the management group that acquired SAT from the CIA. In 1979, Bastian acquired the company’s outstanding stock.

The airline’s activities after that suggest that it was still heavily tied to the U.S. national security apparatus. During the 1980s, Southern Air Transport carried a variety of military supplies, arms and equipment to the Contras. Southern Air President Langton admitted in an affidavit in the civil trial of SAT employee Eugene Hasenfus that SAT flew TOW anti-tank missiles from Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, to Israel. Southern Air crews then loaded the missiles onto Israeli-owned planes that flew them into Iran.

At the time, President Ronald Reagan was officially urging the world to embargo Iran, a country he called “Murder, Inc.” In 1986, SAT secretly shipped 90 tons of TOW missiles to Iran as part of the Reagan administration’s secret arms-for-hostages exchange. Proceeds from the sale of the missiles–some $16 million–were diverted to the Contra resupply effort in Central America. The scandal broke when on October 5, 1986, a Southern Air Transport C-123 cargo plane carrying 10,000 pounds of arms was shot down over Nicaragua.

The flight logs of the downed Southern Air Transport C-123 linked it to a history of involvement with the CIA, cocaine and the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia. The logs documented several Southern Air Transport flights to Barranquilla, Colombia, during October 1985, the same time Wanda Palacios, a Miami FBI informant, told the FBI that the airline was running drugs.

(It was also the same airplane that Louisiana drug dealer Barry Seal used in a joint CIA-DEA sting operation in 1984 against the Sandinistas. Seal acquired the plane through a complicated airline swap with the Medellin cartel, according to declassified government documents, and the plane was fitted with hidden cameras by the CIA at Rickenbacker Air Force Base. Seal reportedly flew weapons for the Contras and returned to the United States with cocaine. He was murdered in New Orleans in 1986 by Colombian hitmen.)

Reports of SAT involvement with drug runners surfaced early on in the Congressional Iran-Contra inquiry. In August 1987, the New York Times reported Palacios informed Congressional investigators that “she witnessed drugs being exchanged for guns intended for the Contras.” Palacios identified Southern Air Transport planes involved in the gun and drug running in two separate incidents in 1983 and 1985. Initially SAT denied any connection to the CIA and dismissed accusations of drug running as absurd.

Although SAT issued an internal memo denying any post-Iran-Contra connections to the CIA, during the Gulf War in 1990-91, Southern Air Transport played a key role in logistic support for the U.S. military. And in September 1990, the Air Force awarded SAT a $54 million contract for “air transport services.” Early 1996 opened for SAT with the same story line when it garnered a 90-day contract to transport construction supplies, equipment and civilian personnel from Zagreb, Croatia, to Tuzla, Bosnia, one of the world’s military hot spots.

The end of the runway

By the end of January 1996, company officials assured the Dispatch that SAT “isn’t backing away from the central Ohio hub,” but SAT officials were dragging their feet on plans to begin construction on a hangar at Rickenbacker.

SAT’s lack of action did not stop the state’s Controlling Board from approving, in May 1996, a half-million-dollar grant “related to the overall project of constructing a 180,000-square-foot facility.” Documents show that Doug Talbott of the Ohio Department of Development hand-carried a $500,000 check to an SAT official on August 5, 1996.

On December 19, 1996, the Dispatch reported that SAT was “delinquent in paying a $277,000 personal property tax bill.” SAT spokesperson David Sweet insisted that “the company is financially sound and intends to proceed with its Rickenbacker plans. `It’s not that we don’t have the money to pay the tax; we just dispute the amount,'” according to the Dispatch.

Langton, SAT’s president of 15 years, left abruptly in March 1997, handing the reins back to the airline’s owner James Bastian. Eight months later, SAT issued layoff notices to 100 of its 750 employees. Two months after that, Southern Air Transport publicly announced it would lay off 54 of the 65 maintenance workers at Rickenbacker and 43 of the 175 employees at the company’s temporary headquarters on Kimberly Parkway. Rickenbacker Port Authority now lacked any airport maintenance facility.

SAT, which had promised 300 new jobs within three years–and had already taken at least $3.5 million in state money–admitted that it hadn’t begun work on the maintenance facility project it had promised.

Marlo B. Tannous, deputy chief legal counsel for the Department of Development, issued a memo trying to figure out what “the exact job numbers” were submitted by SAT to the state. In June 1998, SAT announced it planned “to park and sell off most of its fleet of Lockheed Hercules L-100” planes.

That same month, Joseph C. Robertson, director of the state Department of Development, wrote J. Robert Peart, the executive vice president and CEO of SAT, inquiring about the $500,000 grant and an earlier $200,000 grant for new employee training. “It is critical that DOD receive an accurate assessment of your company’s situation related to these agreements,” Robertson wrote.

On July 30, 1998, Daniel F. Dooley, the chief financial officer of SAT, informed Lewie A. Main of the Department of Development that “Southern Air’s project will not proceed as planned at Rickenbacker due to severe financial difficulty.”

Fine Air Services of Miami announced a plan to purchase the financially troubled SAT on July 23, 1998. Robert Dahl, a consultant with Air Cargo Management Group, summed up SAT’s financial woes by pointing out “there are fewer belligerent circumstances in the world today than there were during the Cold War.” Apparently Spook Air needed the Soviets and the Red Menace to survive. Fine Air backed out of the agreement to purchase SAT “after getting a closer look at its books,” according to the Journal of Commerce.

Kitty Hawk Inc., the world’s largest operator of air cargo planes, signed a letter of intent shortly thereafter to buy SAT. Three weeks later, Kitty Hawk terminated the agreement. Neither Fine Air or Kitty Hawk gave reasons for their decisions not to purchase Southern Air.

Blanca Hernandez, a Southern Air spokesperson, denied rumors that the company was going to seek bankruptcy protection after the Kitty Hawk deal fell through. Three days later, Southern Air Transport grounded all its flights and fired 450 employees. Hernandez admitted that the company was “considering ways to liquidate assets.” The Dispatch reported that the Ohio Department of Transportation would not try to “recoup” $3 million it had loaned SAT.

Telephone calls to Southern Air Transport seeking comment for this story were referred to Columbus attorney Randy Latour. Citing pending litigation, Latour declined to comment.

The Dispatch managed to put a positive spin on the death of Spook Air: “But there were plenty of good times for Southern Air. Its Hercules fleet became the pack mules of the skies, transporting odd-size cargo, including Keiko, the whale, and taking part in humanitarian airlifts to Bosnia and Somalia.” Like local officials, the Dispatch ignored the mounting evidence of SAT’s ties to cocaine smuggling.

More recently, on April 4, the Dispatch reported that the airline’s already messy bankruptcy may be further complicated by allegations that $32 million in the private account of SAT owner Bastian’s wife Mary Bastian are company funds.

On October 1, 1998, the CIA Inspector General issued his report outlining allegations of Southern Air Transport’s involvement in drug-running. That same day, Spook Air filed for bankruptcy in Columbus.






by Bob Fitrakis
NOVEMBER 10, 2014
by Harvey Wasserman

First in a series

Since the Bush-Cheney-Rove theft of the 2000 election in Florida, the right of millions of American citizens to vote and have that vote counted has been under constant assault.

In 2014, that systematic disenfranchisement may well have delivered the US Senate to the Republican Party. If nothing significant is done about it by 2016, we can expect the GOP to take the White House and much more.

The primary victims of this GOP-led purge have been young, elderly, poor and citizens of color who tend to vote Democratic. The denial of their votes has changed the face of our government, and is deepening corporate control of our lives and planet.

There’s no doubt the Democrats have alienated their core constituency and given millions of their former supporters little reason to vote. Perpetual war, blank checks for mega-banks, stiffing the working poor while giving away the planet to the rich—-these are all part of the malaise. Our political landscape is currently defined by corporate personhood and its gutting of the Democratic Party.

Part of that is the destruction of our electoral rights, and the refusal of the Democrats to even face the issue, let alone do something about it. Our voting system is, to put it mildly, bought and rigged, further feeding the deadening sense of public futility and frustration.

As the GOP moves toward total control of our governance—the media, the internet, the Supreme Court, the Congress, local government and, in 2016, the presidency—our future depends on knowing the nuts and bolts of how the destruction of our democracy proceeds, and what we can do to stop it.

In this year’s takeover of the US Senate and many statehouses, barely more than a third of the eligible citizenry was credited with having voted. Official vote counts gave the GOP a consistent “bonus” of about 5% over pre-election polls. In the US Senate race in North Carolina and the Governor’s race in Florida, that margin clearly gave the Republicans their victories, and probably did the same in many other close races.

The GOP’s Jim Crow disenfranchisement campaign has outright robbed millions of citizens of their right to vote. It’s deliberately created an air of confusion and doubt that’s further suppressed the turnout.

Greg Palast, for example, has reported extensively on the Kansas-based “cross-check” technique, used in 28 states, where Republican secretaries of state denied voting rights based on arbitrary judgements that allowed them to eliminate several million potential Democratic voters. (Greg will discuss this on the Solartopia Show at Tuesday, 11/11, 5pm EST; the show will be archived for later listening).

Deliberate (and often illegal) disinformation campaigns, destruction of voter registration forms, outright intimidation, repressive photo ID requirements and other suppression techniques made things worse. It’s by design, not accident, that America’s voter turnout is ranked 120th among all nations.

In evaluating the actual vote count, manipulation of untrackable electronic voting machines must also be accounted for.

Over the years, Bev Harris, Brad Friedman, Jon Simon, Richard Charney and many others have added vital research leading to the inevitable conclusion that the 2014 election—like 2000 and 2004—was essentially bought, rigged, stolen and lynched.

We do not believe the Republican Party legitimately won the US Senate or many of the statehouses they’ve been granted, any more than George W. Bush should have been handed the White House in 2000 and 2004.

Unless we finally face the core issues of election protection, history could repeat itself in 2016 as both tragedy and farce.

Because the dust is still settling, many of the specifics about 2014 remain hidden. In the coming weeks we’ll present as much of the evidence as we can gather.

In the meantime, we welcome President Obama’s new statements supporting net neutrality. There’s no more important foundation for what shreds of democracy remain to us than the ability to freely communicate. Handing control of the internet to mega-corporations, as proposed by the current (Democratic) head of the Federal Communications Commission, would be catastrophic. As with reclaiming our elections, our future on this planet demands an open global highway for unfettered communication. We must do everything we can to preserve and expand it.

We also congratulate US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for proposing that election day become a national holiday. After the 2004 debacle, we proposed a four-day election holiday to cover the first Saturday, Sunday, Monday & Tuesday in November. (The Constitution requires that voting happen the first Monday after the first Tuesday in November). This four-day stretch would help enshrine access to our election process as the sacred ritual it should be.

We also propose universal automatic voter registration, universal hand-counted paper ballots, abolition of the Electoral College, and a massive reform of the role of money in politics.

We hope Sen. Sanders’ initial proposal opens the door to a bottom-up remake of our electoral system. Without it, our democracy is nothing more than a hollow shell.

Over the coming weeks, we’ll explore how that shell was cracked yet again in 2014.

All indicators are that it could be definitively crushed in two years if we don’t act now.
to be continued….


Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman have co-authored six books on election protection, which are at, along with Bob’s FITRAKIS FILES. HARVEY WASSERMAN’S HISTORY OF THE US is at, How the GOP bought, rigged, stole and lynched the 2014 election, along with his SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH

Lieutenant Governor Ohio Green Party candidate, Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman connect the dots with Nixon and treason:

by Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman

Richard Nixon was a traitor.

The new release of extended versions of Nixon’s papers now confirms this long-standing belief, usually dismissed as a “conspiracy theory” by Republican conservatives. Now it has been substantiated by none other than right-wing columnist George Will.

Nixon’s newly revealed records show for certain that in 1968, as a presidential candidate, he ordered Anna Chennault, his liaison to the South Vietnam government, to persuade them refuse a cease-fire being brokered by President Lyndon Johnson.

Nixon’s interference with these negotiations violated President John Adams’s 1797 Logan Act, banning private citizens from intruding into official government negotiations with a foreign nation.

Published as the 40th Anniversary of Nixon’s resignation approaches, Will’s column confirms that Nixon feared public disclosure of his role in sabotaging the 1968 Vietnam peace talks. Will says Nixon established a “plumbers unit” to stop potential leaks of information that might damage him, including documentation he believed was held by the Brookings Institute, a liberal think tank. The Plumbers’ later break-in at the Democratic National Committee led to the Watergate scandal that brought Nixon down.

Nixon’s sabotage of the Vietnam peace talks was confirmed by transcripts of FBI wiretaps. On November 2, 1968, LBJ received an FBI report saying Chernnault told the South Vietnamese ambassador that “she had received a message from her boss: saying the Vietnamese should “hold on, we are gonna win.”

As Will confirms, Vietnamese did “hold on,” the war proceeded and Nixon did win, changing forever the face of American politics—-with the shadow of treason permanently embedded in its DNA.
The treason came in 1968 as the Vietnam War reached a critical turning point. President Lyndon Johnson was desperate for a truce between North and South Vietnam.

LBJ had an ulterior motive: his Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, was in a tight presidential race against Richard Nixon. With demonstrators in the streets, Humphrey desperately needed a cease-fire to get him into the White House.
Johnson had it all but wrapped it. With a combination of gentle and iron-fisted persuasion, he forced the leaders of South Vietnam into an all-but-final agreement with the North. A cease-fire was imminent, and Humphrey’s election seemed assured.

But at the last minute, the South Vietnamese pulled out. LBJ suspected Nixon had intervened to stop them from signing a peace treaty.
In the Price of Power (1983), Seymour Hersh revealed Henry Kissinger—then Johnson’s advisor on Vietnam peace talks—secretly alerted Nixon’s staff that a truce was imminent.

According to Hersh, Nixon “was able to get a series of messages to the Thieu government [of South Vietnam] making it clear that a Nixon presidency would have different views on peace negotiations.”
Johnson was livid. He even called the Republican Senate Minority Leader, Everett Dirksen, to complain that “they oughtn’t be doing this. This is treason.”
“I know,” was Dirksen’s feeble reply.
Johnson blasted Nixon about this on November 3, just prior to the election. As Robert Parry of has written: “when Johnson confronted Nixon with evidence of the peace-talk sabotage, Nixon insisted on his innocence but acknowledged that he knew what was at stake.”
Said Nixon: “My, I would never do anything to encourage….Saigon not to come to the table….Good God, we’ve got to get them to Paris or you can’t have peace.”
But South Vietnamese President General Theiu—a notorious drug and gun runner—did boycott Johnson’s Paris peace talks. With the war still raging, Nixon claimed a narrow victory over Humphrey. He then made Kissinger his own national security advisor.
In the four years between the sabotage and what Kissinger termed “peace at hand” just prior to the 1972 election, more than 20,000 US troops died in Vietnam. More than 100,000 were wounded. More than a million Vietnamese were killed.
But in 1973, Kissinger was given the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the same settlement he helped sabotage in 1968.
According to Parry, LBJ wanted to go public with Nixon’s treason. But Clark Clifford, an architect of the CIA and a pillar of the Washington establishment, talked Johnson out of it. LBJ’s close confidant warned that the revelation would shake the foundations of the nation.
In particular, Clifford told Johnson (in a taped conversation) that “some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I’m wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story and then possibly have [Nixon] elected. It could cast his whole administration under such doubt that I think it would be inimical to our country’s best interests.”
In other words, Clifford told LBJ that the country couldn’t handle the reality that its president was a certifiable traitor, eligible for legal execution.
Fittingly, Clark Clifford’s upper-crust career ended in the disgrace of his entanglement with the crooked Bank of Credit and Commerce (BCCI), which financed the terrorist group Al Qaeda and whose scandalous downfall tainted the Agency he helped found.
Johnson lived four years after he left office, tormented by the disastrous war that destroyed his presidency and his retirement. Nixon won re-election in 1972, again with a host of dirty dealings, then became the first America president to resign in disgrace.
Bob Fitrakis is Editor-in-Chief of the Free Press and Harvey Wasserman is Senior Editor. Read more Harvey Wasserman at

Dr. Fadhel Kaboub is Assistant Professor of economics at Denison University (OH) and Research Associate at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University (MA), Levy Economics Institute of Bard College (NY), the Center for Full Employment and Price Stability (MO), and the International Economic Policy Institute (Ontario, Canada). He has taught at Drew University (NJ), where he was also co-director of the Wall Street Semester Program; the University of Missouri–Kansas City (UMKC); and Bard College at Simon’s Rock (MA).



Bob Fitrakis
September 13, 2012

As a direct result of the illegal United States-led attack on Gaddafi and the subsequent coup, pan-Islamic fundamentalists killed the U.S. ambassador and three other American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya Tuesday, on the anniversary of 9/11. As anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan recently noted, “Libya today is the creation of the U.S., NATO, and Al Qaeda, acting in a criminal partnership.”

The Obama administration referred to their efforts that led to the unleashing of al Qaeda and other Islamic fundamentalists in Libya as a “kinetic humanitarian action.” In reality, it was regime change, a hi-jacking of resources, and an illegal war.

Libya, under Gaddafi, was stable. Gaddafi had nationalized Libyan oil resources and his nation had one of the highest standards of living in Africa and in the Middle East. At the time he was overthrown by the U.S.-led coalition, he was busy promoting an African currency and a continental development bank to liberate all the natural resources of Africa from the International Monetary Fund. In fact, Gaddafi bragged that he was the first state leader to issue an international arrest warrant for Osama bin Laden.

When the disorganized group of Islamic fundamentalists first rose up in Benghazi, it was the U.S. and NATO who provided legitimacy and aided in the organization of the Transitional Council. One of the first things that the Council did, was seize Libya’s central bank which controlled an estimated 144 tons of gold.

Libya was plunged into chaos through Obama and NATO’s actions. While the U.S. and other Western mainstream corporate media savagely denounced Gaddafi, they conveniently ignored the obvious al Qaeda operatives that would come forward after his removal.

We could pretend that the current crisis in Libya is simply the unintended and unpredictable consequences of a humanitarian intervention. What we would have to do is ignore the facts. Almost a year ago, ABC News reported that former Gaddafi regime hand-held missiles were popping up at Egyptian bazaars and that the going price for a heat-seeking shoulder-fired surface-to-air missile had dropped from $10,000 to $4,000. ABC later reported that out of the estimated 20,000 portable surface-to-air missiles in Gaddafi’s arsenal, 15,000 were missing.

The CIA has a term for unintended consequences — “blowblack.” That term has no application in the current Libyan crisis. Blowback implies that results are unintended. A much better thesis is provided by former high-ranking CIA official John Stockwell, who in his book In Search of Enemies, offers the perspective that the U.S. military industrial complex and its cohorts in the security industrial agencies intentionally keep the third world in chaos and turmoil to justify their unprecedented budgets.

Amidst this predictable chaos, it is much easier for the former colonialist nations of NATO to extract 144 tons of gold and vast oil and gas reserve from the once independent nation of Libya, now a haven for Islamic terrorists.

Bob Fitrakis was part of Cynthia McKinney’s group visiting Libya in 2009 for the Conference on the Study of the Green Book, and was in Gaddafi’s tent. See Bob’s article from earlier this year on Libya at Article

Bob Fitrakis’ “Fight Back”: Guest Ben Carnes, Native American activist
Bob and Ben will discuss Columbus Day and its implications for the Native communities of our country. Ben Carnes is a Choctaw activist and writer who received the 1987 Oklahoma Human Rights Award for making a stand against forced hair-cutting policies while incarcerated. After his parole in August 1988, he has been involved in organizing events and demonstrations on behalf of Native people and Native prisoners, including Leonard Peltier. His experiences have led to being asked to testify before congressional committees, and speak at numerous universities, public forums and events.
Listen and call in this Wednesday October 12
7 – 8 PM
Call 877-932-9766
Here’s how to call in to the LIVE INTERNET radio show:
(on your computer – not on your broadcast radio dial)
On Wednesday nights at 7:00 pm
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Bob and Connie interview Pastor Bob Ward about the 100-year-old church and its anniversary celebration and the social justice issues address by the church’s community outreach programs on East Main Street.