WELCOME TO TERRORLAND -- MOHAMED ATTA & THE 9-11 COVER-UP IN FLORIDA
One of the most puzzling questions about 9/11 has to do with the competency and skill displayed by the terrorist pilots. What's curious is that Atta and Marwan's flight school instructors in Florida said they were poor students and poor pilots. The impression created was that the duo were zealots, brand-new commercial pilots on a misbegotten mission.
Despite this testimony, numerous observers cite the pilots at the controls of the hijacked jets for a cool efficiency which provoked a grudging respect for their 'professional' talents.
Was Atta a better pilot then they let on?
"Their capacity to operate the aircraft was substantial," said Attorney General Ashcroft. "It's very clear that these orchestrated, coordinated assaults on our country were well-conducted, and conducted in a technically proficient way."
An ex-military pilot told us: "They swooped down on the World Trade Center like a pair of fighter jets. The terrorists were flying bulky 200-ton Boeing 767 jetliners so smoothly they obviously had considerable flying skills."
"The hits on all three 9/11 buildings were damned difficult, and not at all the 'stuff' of new commercial pilots," he continued. "It's possible they were former fighter pilots, cycled through Florida flight schools used as a 'cutout."'
Investigating the large-scale training of possible terrorist pilots would become a crucial law enforcement concern. An FBI list of more than 220 people wanted for questioning as possible associates of the hijackers contained at least 32 pilots, five student pilots and 12 aircraft mechanics. Dozens of those sought for questioning were trained as pilots.
Remember: "Your 'legend' is your cover story, the lie that holds together long enough to let you slip away." Mohamed Atta's "Islamic extremist" legend had begun falling apart in South Florida's bars and strip joints, just as Lee Harvey Oswald's 'communist' legend did when news of his presence at anti-Castro paramilitary camps in Louisiana came out.
Let's take a look at the legend of Rudi Dekkers as 'flight school owner,' to see if it, too, is beginning to fray around the edges.
For his part, Dekkers professed no concern over his role in the tragedy. Summing up his sentiments about it, he said, "At the beginning, it was bad. We had some death threats. Now, basically, all we hear is good news. People come up and say, weren't you the guy who owns Huffman Aviation?' And they shake hands with me."
Just as the 'Magic Bullet Theory' -- one bullet passing through multiple bodies, intact and unharmed- as the only way the Warren Commission could sell its lone gunman story, the FBI's version of what happened in Venice relies on similarly-twisted logic.
Its called the 'Magic Dutch Boy Theory,' and it's required to explain how all those terrorist pilots could have been at two separate Dutch-owned flight schools and have it all just be another freak coincidence.
Dekkers, who is, of course, Dutch, had purchased Huffman in the year before the terrorists began to arrive. While everyone else was pondering the Internet bust, Atta and Marwan spent their days in small Cessnas, building time.
The terrorist duo practicing touch and go's in the humid September air on Florida's Gulf coast were joined by a third terrorist, Siad Al-Jarrah, who moved in next door to Huffman at Kruithof's Florida Flight Training Center.
Like Dekkers' school, this second Venice flight school had also recently changed ownership. The new owner was -- of all things -- another Dutch national. Arne Kruithof was from Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Other members of the Hamburg cadre came too. Bald-headed Zacarias Moussaoui was in Venice, and Ramzi bin al-Shib paid money to attend as well as others we will hear of later.
Dutch national Kruithof's purchase of the second of the two Venice flight schools while countryman Dekkers purchased the other has led to the two being dubbed the 'Magic Dutch Boys.'
But they've got more than a nickname. They've got a whole theory named after them. The notion that it is just coincidence that almost all of the key members of Atta's Hamburg cadre came to Florida to learn to fly at two separate recently-purchased Dutch-owned flight schools at the tiny Venice Airport is called the 'Magic Dutch Boy Theory.'
Someday, perhaps, it will be taught in college, in the history of the 21st Century. The chief tenet of the 'Magic Dutch Boy Theory' is: "Two foreign nationals purchasing flight schools at the same airport at about the same time which are soon hubcap-deep in Arab terrorist pilot-wannabees is just a magical, or freak, coincidence."
It is the official position of the chief investigative agency of the United States Government, the FBI.
"Two Dutch boys buying adjacent flight schools which shortly thereafter get 'overrun' by terrorists is one damn Dutch boy too many," growled one nationally-known law enforcement figure.
"It seemed kind of odd when Dekkers bought his flight school here," said Coy Jacobs, owner of Mooney Aviation, "because the only other flight school in town is owned by Arne Kruithof, and he's Dutch too and the odds of that are pretty slim."
Bob Mudge is the genial editor of the local Venice Gondolier. He told us: "I've heard a lot of rumors that I haven't been able to substantiate about connections between them and other businesses here and entities and agencies outside the area. It's certainly something you have to say is a very interesting coincidence. "
If the appearance of two Dutch nationals purchasing flight schools months apart isn't just a freak coincidence belonging in Ripley's Believe it Or Not, then the FBI is covering up something in Venice.
Were Rudi Dekkers and Arne Kruithof acting as 'cut-outs' in an effort to provide that ever-popular 'plausible deniability?' Was Huffman funneling their trainees into further training?
Could the CIA have been running a covert operation in Venice? Training pilots for Osama bin Laden, in an effort to penetrate his organization that somehow had gone horribly wrong?
Someday they'll be adding a 'Magic Dutch Boy Wing' next to the 'Magic Bullet Wing' of the Secret History Museum.
We came across a business profile written about Rudi Dekkers months before the 9/11 attack. The two flight schools at Venice Municipal Airport catered almost exclusively to international students, said the Sarasota Herald.
Rudi Dekkers had trained some 800 foreign students at his school during the past two years. Dekkers told reporters he had 200 students at this facility at any given time, and estimated 80 percent were foreign.
Venice residents said Florida Flight Training also had numerous international students.
Dekkers, 44 at the time of the attack, was born in Holland, and began flying in 1981, in between working as a computer salesman and real estate broker.
In 1985, he earned his European commercial pilot's license and left Holland for the warm beaches and pretty blue waters of the Florida Gulf Coast, where he settled with his wife Astrid in Naples, and 'quickly fell in love with the States.'
"Dekkers does have some financial support from sources other than customers," reported the paper, citing a retired Naples insurance magnate as one big backer. Dekkers also owned Ambassador Airways in Naples, the story said. He had been operating charter flight services for nine years.
That "financial support from sources other than customers" the article references is Wallace J. Hilliard, a 70 year-old 'retired' insurance executive originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin. Even before the tragedy of September 11th, both men's dealings had lifted eyebrows at the Venice Airport.
Though they got a free ride from the national media, that was not the case with people at the airport, where, among their aviation peers, a cloud of suspicion hung over their operations.
Arne Kruithof was expected to testify at the trial of the so-called 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, we learned; where he would also presumably be grilled about his relationship with Rudi Dekkers, as well as his partner Pascal Schreier, a German national living in Munich.
Their joint company, Aviation Aspirations, provided both financial assistance and also what the company called a "Mentor Programme." About their 'mentoring programme,' their literature said: "The help is both financial and practical. We now provide one- to-one practical assistance from experienced Professional Pilots (our Mentors) whom we have established throughout the world."
The company's motto was "Better training because we care."
We wondered what they meant by 'special mentoring.' Was a 'mentor' the same as a 'handler?' Was Aviation Aspirations a front for recruiting intelligence assets in the guise of training people to fly?
Dekkers and Kruithof insisted they had never met each other until they separately decided running a flight school in Venice seemed a good idea. The truth, however, would turn out to be an altogether different proposition.
"I knew Rudi Dekkers," said Tom Hammersley, former chief flight instructor at Kruithof's school. "My former employer, Arne Kruithof, and Rudi Dekkers, they are both Dutch. They go back a long time."
So Dekkers was lying. When people lie, its usually for a reason.
Another odd link between Dekkers and Kruithof was a German named Pascal Schreier, who had recruited students for them in, among other places, Hamburg, where Atta's Hamburg cadre was based.
Probably just a freak coincidence.
"I know Pascal Schreier, too," Hammersley told us, when we asked about him. "I worked with him as part of Florida Flight Training Center. He's a German boy, and he did a lot of recruiting of students over in Europe, sending them over to Arne."
Although the two Venice Dutch Boys ran what were supposedly competing flight schools, strangely, Pascal Schreier appears to have been in business with both of them. He was an officer of a company called Florida Sunrise Aviation at the Venice Airport. Dekkers was an officer in a company at the same airport called Sunrise Aviation.
Another freak coincidence?
Rudi Dekkers said Atta and his sidekick just showed up at his facility one day. He had, instead, been actively marketing his flight school in Germany at the exact time Mohamed Atta and his terrorist cell left Hamburg and moved to Florida.
Dekkers began an aggressive European marketing campaign right after purchasing Huffman, said a story headlined "New owners of Huffman Aviation have global presence," in the Venice Gondolier.
Dekkers talked to the paper about his plans for the newly-purchased company. "The world is my working place," he boasted.
"I won't forget Venice, but I'm going to market throughout the world, Germany, France, Belgium. That's our goal, to get people to come in here from all over the world."
His plans were apparently successful. They soon changed the makeup of his two flight schools. Foreign nationals came to account for over 80 per cent of the student pilots enrolled with him.
His two schools were training four hundred foreign nationals a year, said the paper.
After Atta moved from Germany to train with Dekkers' flight school in Venice, at least four other members of the same terrorist cell moved there to train as pilots as well, according to German prosecutors.
We met a wizened old pilot who's flown in the area for over 15 years. Two years ago, said Danny Schultz, he'd noticed a change in the type of pilot trainees. "Many times I went to lunch with these folks, and some of them could hardly speak English, from various countries in the Middle East. There was a recent influx of these types of trainees. Before, you'd never seen much Middle Eastern traffic. Then one day, all of a sudden they're marching across the tarmac."
What if Mohamed hadn't gone to the mountain, but, instead, the mountain -- in the guise of the portly Dekkers -- had come to Mohamed?
If Atta was in contact with Dekker's recruiters while still in Hamburg, instead of just showing up in Venice, that could explain statements by officials early on that the key to unraveling the plot might not lie in the United States, but in Germany.
Rudi Dekkers, as we've seen, had 'Saudi Cover.' But it went well beyond a contract with Saudi Arabian Airlines. The French newspaper Le Monde reported that Osama bin Laden's Geneva, Switzerland-based brother Yeslam had also been sending student pilots to Venice for training.
Yeslam bin Laden is one of three half brothers of Osama bin laden who head the Saudi Bin Laden Group, the parent company of the family's far-flung business ventures, which include construction, telecommunications and finance. He has been called a key figure in the family's business empire.
Swiss police questioned Yeslam because one of his companies, Avcon Air Charter, had offered flight training to clients at the Venice flight school attended by some of the hijackers. As a result of what Le Monde called "a still unexplained coincidence," the pilots of Yeslam bin Laden's company trained at Huffman Aviation in Florida, the paper stated.
"I didn't chose that flight school," Yeslam protested. "I don't have contact with my half-brother since over 20 years ago."
Swiss magazine L'Hebdo reported that Swiss federal inspectors were seeking information on the activities of several bin Laden family companies, including Geneva-based Saudi Investment Company, a financial clearinghouse for the family's international investments, and Avcon Business Jets SA, which owned a fleet of private jets which it leased to clients.
In a rare public statement, the head of the bin Laden family business explained that he had only invested in aviation "because I am passionately fond of flying."
But, he said, he was also passionately fond of "tennis, skiing and the cinema." Yeslam said that Avcon "rents planes, provides services to clients, but didn't participate in the instruction of pilots."
Yet Mohamed Atta and his sidekick bodyguard Marwan had told the chief flight instructor at one of their schools that their future plans were with the nationally-owned Saudi airline.
"I asked them (Atta and Marwan) specifically about what their goals were, and they said they wanted to learn to fly so that they could go fly for 'Saudi.' For people coming from that part of the world, 'Saudi' would be the premier airline of the Middle East," stated Tom Hamersley, the terrorists duo's chief flight instructor at Jones Aviation.
Then we learned that, incredibly, four additional 9/11 terrorist suspects at Dekkers schools had fled the U .S. in haste just days before the attack. Three of the fleeing students were Saudi nationals. All four had been training at one of Dekkers' two flight schools. Aviation observers at the airport shook their heads. It heightened the sense of intrigue which swirled around the con troversial Dekkers.
News of the additional terror suspects schools broke in accounts of FBI raids on a house in the Miami area.
FBI agents spent two days in South Florida searching an unoccupied Palm Beach County home which had been hastily abandoned by a Saudi family just two days before the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
Saudi Mohammed Almasri and his family had first moved into the home in question in July 2000, the FBI said. His son was a student at Huffman Aviation at the same time hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi studied there.
The other three new terror suspects had been training at the Dekkers-owned Ambassador Aviation, in Naples, 100 miles south of Venice.
One of the three fled the U .S. in haste just days before the attack. The sad story of 22 year-old Marwan Mohammed Shemina provides a glimpse into the intrigue going on at Dekkers' schools.
Shemina, who told school officials his father worked for the United Nations in Rome, abruptly ceased training and disappeared under mysterious circumstances days before the 9/11 attack, stated Danielle Clarke, a former flight training executive at the school.
School officials spoke with the FBI about Shemina's sudden departure, she said, as well as the departures of two other Saudi student pilots just before the attack: Kamran Hussain, traveling on a UK passport, and Ahmad Badri, who had a Swedish passport.
Unlike most student pilots, who are enthused to learn to fly, Marwan Shemisa was an extremely reluctant 19 year-old student pilot, said Danielle.
He holed up in his hotel room and wouldn't emerge to begin flight lessons until after his mother had been dispatched from Rome to buck up her son.
"Marwan didn't want to be here," Clarke said, "He arrived two weeks late, took two lessons, and then took sick and stayed in his hotel room for 10 days. When his father called the school, I asked him if we should ship him back."
"Absolutely not, he said. 'He's over there to achieve something and he's not coming back.'
Shortly thereafter his mother arrived, a Libyan woman wear- ing traditional Arab clothing who lived in Rome, and Marwan began taking flight training again, but without any enthusiasm, said Clarke.
"He didn't look at all happy. He appeared very depressed, and only brightened up when talking about playing football (soccer) in the streets of Rome. So one day I asked him, 'what is it with you?' I said 'You don't know how lucky you are to have your parents paying for flight training!"'
"I want to be a football player," he told her.
She asked him if he would like her to relay his desires to his parents. "No. They want me to be a pilot," he replied, "You don't understand, I don't have any say in the matter."
Then, the week before the attack, and just two days shy of com pleting his courses and getting his multi-engine license, Marwan Shemina's father -- who had previously been insistent his son stay and take lessons-abruptly commanded him to leave.
"It's ridiculous, like dropping out of college a few days before the end of your last semester," she explained.
Danielle implored the father to let his son finish his courses. "Couldn't you extend his stay by just two days so he can finish his multi-rating license?" she asked.
His reply: "Absolutely not."
On the unhappy youth's final day at the school, Danielle asked if he was looking forward to going back to Italy.
Even today, Marwan Shemisa's reply is chilling. He had had another change of plans he told Danielle. He was headed for what authorities later called the assembly point for most of the hijackers.
"I'm not going back to Italy," Marwan said. "I'm going to Boston."
"What? Why are you going to Boston?" she asked.
"Because I have to," he said. "You don't understand, 1 don't have a choice."
Several days after his sudden departure the hotel he'd been staying at called the school, asking what they should do with his clothes and several very large trunks, all of which he'd left behind, as if in haste.
Marwan Shemisa disappeared on September 6, 2001, taking a flight to Boston. It is not known for sure if he was on board any of the hijacked planes. The school has not heard from him.
But he was telling the truth about one thing: His father did work at the U.N.
"Eighty per cent of his tuition was being paid for by the United Nations, which was where he said his father worked," said Danielle. "I took it to be a perk of his father's job at the U.N."
There was something else strange, too ... The FBI had been more interested in the two Saudi students that disappeared. They had not appeared concerned with Shemisa.
"But when they returned the school's records to us, there was only one file missing: Marwan Shemisa's," said Danielle Clarke. "That file never reappeared, although we are supposed to have it by law."
We were able to get a brief interview with the financier whose money purchased both of Dekkers' flight schools, 70 year-old Wallace Hilliard, of Naples, FL. One of the things we asked him to explain was the large number of Arab students in his flight schools 'marching across the tarmac.'
Hilliard angrily denied reports of the number of Arab students with a terrorist bent who had flocked -- so far inexplicably -- to his and Dekkers' flight schools. He said: "I'm sorry, what you are say ing is grossly untrue. I believe that there were two Arab students, not 22, only two. There were two, period. Two total."
In point of fact, news of the four additional terror suspects brought the current total of 9/11 cadre terrorists known to have been enrolled at flight schools owned by the 'Magic Dutch Boys' to eight.
Rudi Dekker's figure alone stood at five.
We also asked Hilliard about his associations with persons of clearly dubious repute, Dekkers among them.
"I've done some stupid things," Hilliard replied. "I have done some very stupid things with airplanes, and it has cost me lots of money."
One of the 'stupid things' Hilliard is referring to was the seizure of a Lear jet he owned, on the tarmac of Orlando Executive airport in early July of 2000. DEA agents brandishing automatic weapons surrounded the plane before discovering 43 pounds of heroin onboard.
That deal had cost somebody lots of money. We hoped it wasn't Hilliard.
The world would have little need to take note of Wally Hilliard and Rudi Dekkers were it not for the fact that their purchase of Huffman Aviation, for an undisclosed sum in June of 1999, set in motion a chain of events that ended in tragedy.
It was their business decision which sixteen months later resulted in people hanging at dizzying heights out of windows high above New York.
Atta's Hamburg cadre, and the Arab terrorist bombers of the early 1990's-several of whom also attended flight schools in the U .S.-clustered in a handful of flight schools. The terrorists didn't have complete and unfettered access to any U .S. flight school they pleased. They were funneled through only a few 'special' schools: the Magic Dutch Boys, Airman in Oklahoma, and a couple in Arizona and California. The so-called 20th hijacker, Zacharias Moussaoui, who also has links at the Venice Airport, spent three months at Airman and everything was cool. When he showed up at a flight school in Minnesota not in this "special category," flight instructors at the school called in the FBI the very next day.
Wally Hilliard and Rudi Dekkers weren't even in the flight school business, we slowly discovered. These were not two guys forming a partnership to make a profit selling goods or services.
The Dekkers-Hilliard partnership lost money from the first day it began. There was no hint it mattered to either man.
It is widely known-and confirmed by Hilliard himself in filings at the Sarasota Courthouse -- that the Naples financier lost between five and seven million dollars in his aviation partnerships with Dekkers.
But that was clearly all right with him, because when they bought Huffman Aviation, they were already losing sizable amounts of money every month at the first flight school they'd purchased, in Naples.
"When they bought Huffman, they were already losing $40,000 a month on the Naples school," said Stuart Burchill, a former Hilliard accountant. "It was ridiculous. No one could understand why they'd want to double the pain."
Their decision, to their own accountant, made no business sense. Whatever Dekkers and Hilliard were doing together during the two years and six months between the purchase of Huffman and the 9/11 attack, had nothing to do with prospering in business.
Nor were Dekkers and Hilliard diehard aviation enthusiasts using the flight schools as playthings, or a hobby. Dekkers was far too busy with a variety of illegal ventures to have been any sort of connoisseur of flight.
And while the 70 year-old Wally Hilliard is a pilot, he has an unfortunate 'tic' that would seem to indicate that he could find a more suitable hobby than flying ... He suffers from a narcoleptic condition which causes him to fall asleep at irregular intervals- while at the controls of airplanes he is flying, for example.
So whatever their motivation for turning up at the Venice Airport as new owners of Huffman Aviation, they weren't just two entrepreneurs looking to share in the glorious promise of free enterprise.
The fact is, Rudi Dekkers never made a dime teaching people to fly airplanes, and the 'legend' of Rudi Dekkers as 'flight school owner' is a sham.
This is important information in any real understanding of what happened on 9/11, because the controversial Dekkers is not just a run-of-the-mill con-man and quick-fading historical footnote. Dekkers was at the critical nexus of the terrorist conspiracy.
When Atta and Marwan made their fateful journey to America, when they arrived in Venice it was Rudi Dekkers assigning bunks on this side of the Big Pond.
Records from his flight school were deemed sensitive enough to have merited being escorted back to Washington by Florida Governor Jeb Bush aboard a C-130 cargo plane which left Sarasota less than 24 hours after the September 11 attack.
So, if Hilliard and Dekkers weren't in the flight training busi ness, what business were they in? What kind of business were they transacting while terrorists practiced touch and go's on the runways at the Venice Airport?
And why would someone go through the motions of pretending to be in a business they really weren't in?
The answer is simple, straightforward, and, we think, ultimately inescapable: Rudi Dekkers and Wally Hilliard used owning the two flight schools as cover for their other activities.
The first person we asked about Dekkers when we first arrived in Florida was a man who had just recently been pressed back into service, out of nearby McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, because his experience in the early 'SO's running 'Northern Alliance guys' in Afghanistan was deemed useful. He had also been a 'trouble- shooter' during the Presidency of Ronald Reagan. What he told us was chilling.
"Rudi's greedy, and when you're greedy you can be used for some- thing," he muttered darkly. He would offer nothing further.
Charlie Voss put it into perspective, in an interview on his front doorstep six months after the attack. Voss was the former Huffman Aviation bookkeeper who provided a place for Atta and Marwan to stay when they got: to Venice. His house had been surrounded by reporters the day after the attack.
Now things were quieter, and Charlie had some surprising things to say. Clearly, he'd been mulling over the same things we had.
"When something doesn't make obvious business sense," he said, "sometimes it's because things are being done for another reason that doesn't have a lot to do with dollars and cents."
When we asked for a comment on his former boss Dekkers, he said, "His business did not add up."
The "business" begin with an article in the June 15, 1999 Sarasota Herald-Tribune announcing the take-over of Huffman Aviation:
"Venice Municipal Airport's flight school and charter and aircraft maintenance services have swapped hands among Naples owners, who own a similar operation called Ambassador Airways at Naples Airport," said the paper.
"They bought the Venice business from Stanley Huffman of Naples, who founded the company 25 years ago."
There were some odd 'anomalies' in the circumstances surrounding the purchase of Huffman Aviation that occasioned comment out at the Venice Airport. When Hilliard and Dekkers arrived brandishing a big roll and proceeding in short order to purchase the flight school, they paid such an inflated price for the business that it appeared to local aviation observers that money was no object.
There was talk. Rumors flew.
"They made the deal overnight," explained Coy Jacobs, who owns Mooney Aviation, a sales and maintenance facility right next door to Huffman Aviation.
"They just blew into town. They did no due diligence to the best of my knowledge. That's a cardinal 'no-no.' I mean, you don't just come in and buy a business like that overnight."
He painted a picture of conditions at the time of the sale.
"Huffman was not for sale three days ago," said Jacob, "and then Rudi shows up with Wally, who owns some Lear jets. They were here a day or two ... met with Stan Huffman, he named a number, they said yes and wrote him a check, and then they notified the City of Venice of what they had done ... after the fact."
"And that's a criteria," explained Jacob. "You cannot transfer properties at this airport, and most federally funded airports, without the governing authority's approval."
"It (the sale) was a shock to everybody at the airport. In fact, the City Council, the City Attorney and I think even for that matter the manager of the airport weren't even aware of it until well after the fact."
If the city of Venice didn't approve the purchase the two were stuck owning a business they couldn't run. They were taking a big financial gamble. What made the two men so confident that local officials would bless the transaction? What had made them sure of getting government approval?
When the sale was announced, Venice City Manager George Hunt told the Gondolier he had not been officially notified of the purchase. "We wish Stan (Huffman) well, and we would welcome Ambassador Airways. They have a fine reputation in Naples."
These are the first words out of Hunts mouth about Rudi Dekkers, and they're wrong. The only reputation Rudi Dekkers enjoyed in Naples was as a deadbeat and occasional scumbag. Rudi wasn't an unknown quantity there at all. He had a tarnished history, which the Venice City Manager could have learned by picking up the phone and asking a few questions, as we did.
Time after time, we discovered that government entities had inexplicably smiled on the fortunes of Dekkers and Hilliard's aviation partnership, until it began to seem as if they had a 'rich uncle' in government somewhere.
The FAA, for example, protected Dekkers on a number of occasions. An aviation mechanic who worked for him told of criminal acts Dekkers committed which the mechanic had been forced by law to report to the PM eighteen thousand feet in the air, safety is an important consideration...
At least its supposed to be.
"Rudi Dekkers did an import of an airplane," the mechanic explained. "We found dents on the front of a wing and replaced sheet metal, and then we found ribs that were crushed. This renders an airplane un-airworthy. And yet he still sold the plane."
"I turned Rudi Dekkers into the PM. They didn't do a damn thing. "
Another aviation mechanic who worked for Dekkers over a period of years, Dave Montgomery, laughed when we asked him if this story could be true. Montgomery said when he found something wrong with an airplane Dekkers bought, Dekkers had fired him. Adding insult to injury, Dekkers then bounced his last payroll check.
John Villada, who managed Wally Hilliard's huge jet fleet, confirmed Montgomery's story. "Dave Montgomery worked for Rudi for three years as his Chief Mechanic till he found something wrong with an airplane Rudi bought Rudi fired him, and then bounced his last payroll check."
Rudi Dekkers reputation at the Naples Airport got so bad, we learned, that he couldn't even buy gas there ... for cash.
"When he bought Huffman Aviation for big bucks he couldn't even pay his rent at the Naples Airport," said a Naples aviation executive, "His reputation as a deadbeat was so bad that the local Fixed Base Operator refused to sell him aviation fuel, even for cash."
Dekkers' reputation in Naples preceded him to Venice, except with government officials like Venice City Manager Hunt. Aviation business owner Coy Jacob said people there knew he had been basically run out of the Naples Airport.
"All we knew was that he was operating a flight school, an unsuccessful flight school in Naples. He had some run-ins with the PM, I think he had lost his license, or had been reprimanded," said Jacob.
A Naples aviation observer, Rob Tillman, confirmed Dekkers record of illegality there. "They got busted by the PM, crashed some airplanes, violated air space enough to get grounded, chartered airplanes with no license ... you name it."
And then there's the problem of Dekkers' 'extensive business aviation experience' cited by newspapers.
Dekkers didn't have any.
"I've always had some suspicions about the way he breezed into town out of nowhere," said someone close to the scene at Huffman. "Just too many odd little things. He has, for example, absolutely no aviation background as far as anyone can tell."
'Breezed into town out of nowhere' and 'no aviation background' were not comments that square with portrayals of Dekkers in news accounts about the purchase of the flight school, which stressed his broad aviation experience.
"Ambassador Airways owners Rudi Dekkers, 42, Naples, president, and Wally Hilliard, 67, also from Naples, are both experienced pilots. Their Ambassador Airways owns several jet aircraft including Lear jets," read one local news account.
Owning a fleet of Lear jets may bestow a certain 'je ne said quoi' but that hardly erases a colorful history of unscrupulous and illegal business practices. Dekkers crossed the line with aviation professionals we spoke to ...
He put lives at risk to make a buck.
"He would take in people's planes to rent out while they were idle," one aviation mechanic who worked for him stated.
"Then he would come to me and want me to put switches on the Hobbes meter. It's like disconnecting an odometer on a car. Its a direct PM violation and an extremely dangerous practice, because you can no longer tell when the plane is due for service," the mechanic explained.
"But he wanted to do it because it let him rent out planes without having to pay the plane's owner their cut."
Huffman was the only full-service fixed base operator, or FBO, at the Venice airport. An FBO sells gas, provides mechanical services and otherwise caters to private aviation, and is usually a center of activity at the airport. In other words, something of a CIVIC resource.
"When Wally found Rudi Dekkers, Dekkers had already been thrown out of Naples as a con artist," said Naples aviation observer Rob Tillman. "Plus he had tax problems. He didn't pay tax on shit. And this is the guy to whom Wally sold Florida Air."
"Who approved Dekkers buying the FBO in Venice?" asked an irate aviation insider at the Venice Airport. "He'd been thrown out of Naples ... how come they let him buy the 'diamond' of Venice?"
Rudi Dekkers literally arrived with a bang at the newly-purchased Huffman Aviation's headquarters, according to Charlie Voss. "On his first day running the company, he took a girl into his office and noisily copulated with her on his desk, just to let everyone know that he was the new rooster in town. Everybody could hear them. It was disgusting."
We found a number of people willing to talk about Dekkers on the record.
We heard from numerous sources that Rudi Dekkers had been the object of a serious multi-agency federal investigation during the mid-90's. Apparently authorities found a number of fruitful investigative leads to pursue...
"Rudi owned a computer business doing illegal activities at the Naples Airport," explained Tillman. "When Wally and Rudi were romancing, Rudi was smuggling aircraft back into the U.S. over the Arctic. "
International Computer Products was the name of Dekkers' computer firm, active during the 1990's, we learned.
Naples aviation executive John Vellada confirmed the accounts. "There was a warrant for Rudi's arrest for smuggling computer chips," he told us. "Both the DEA and u.s. Customs were interested in him back in '93 and '94."
"Everything he ever did, from A to Z, was illegal."
A major source of conjecture around the airports in both Naples and Venice was what were the two partners doing together. They were considered an Odd Couple-universally, so far as we can tell-by observers at both airports.
Danielle Clarke was a French pilot who moved to Florida after spending twenty years as a flight instructor in Britain. She became Dekkers' and Hilliard's flight manager at Ambassador Aviation.
"It was an unholy alliance, unless there was a reason for that alliance to be," she told us. They were just so incongruous. It was like watching the Pope and Saddam Hussein together."
"One of the big topics of conversation around the Naples Airport was 'what do you think about the Wally situation?"'
"We were all trying to figure out Wally's relationship with Rudi. They were like 'chalk and cheese.' Nobody ever understood how they came together, but they were always together," said Clarke.
Amanda Keller used an American equivalent of 'chalk and cheese' when she described seeing the corpulent Dekkers and the slight Hilliard together at Huffman.
"It was funny to see the chubby guy and the little guy walking together. They were like Abbott and Costello or something."
Rudi Dekkers had an erratic sense of cash management, that often led to speculation among aviation observers. He went from dead broke to flashing a Big Roll in the blink of an eye.
"Rudi would write a lot of bad checks, disappear for a while, and come back with lots of cash," an airport observer recalled.
"Huffman Aviation was a little jewel when he bought it, and it had a really good reputation," another aviation executive told us. "He took a profitable business and ran it right into the ground. So he's got a business that's losing money hand over fist, and yet he was awash in cash. It just doesn't add up right."
"I can recall times when Dekkers owed money to everyone at the (Naples) airport," said a business owner there. "And then he would leave town for three weeks or so in the Lear, and come back flush."
Rudi Dekkers' financial profile changed overnight, said Coy Jacob in Venice. "Just about a year before he bought Huffman, he asked me for a ride from Venice to Naples, an airplane ride, which is maybe a 20 minute flight. I said yeah, sure, I'll take you down there with one of my pilots if you buy the gas," Jacob related.
"He didn't even have the money to buy gas for an airplane to go down and back, and yet a year later he shows up and plops a million seven, a million eight or two million dollars on the table as if it were paper money."
People who work in general aviation in Venice and Naples have a seemingly unlimited supply of stories portraying Dekkers as a shady character.
"I spent 5 years working at an avionics shop in Naples," one aviation mechanic told us. "There were a lot of things about the guy that just did not add up. He's claimed to me, for instance, that's he's a New York cop. He's even got a plaque on his wall, with words to that effect."
"A New York cop? You tell me: How does a Dutch con artist get a plaque claiming he's an officer with the New York Police Department?"
His question has been ringing in our ears for a long time. It was also, perhaps just coincidentally, the second reference to the NYPD we'd heard recently in South West Florida. The first had been when Amanda Keller recommended someone who could confirm a story about Mohamed Atta harassing her at work.
"The bouncer at Fantasies & Lingerie was a big bald guy named Nick, a retired NY City detective," she said. "You could talk to him."
But, Rudi Dekkers was not the only Dutch national flight school owner at the Venice Airport with curious and unexplained associations. The second 'Magic Dutch Boy' could be equally mysterious, according to Coy Jacob.
"Arne Kruithof sat across from my desk one day and told me he had trained at a U.S. military installation in southeast Missouri," said Jacob.
"I'm from Missouri, and there aren't any military bases there training foreign nationals that I know of. But the thing I kept wondering was" 'What's a Dutch national doing training at a secure U .S. military facility?"'
Dekkers had a specific objective in mind when he came to Venice, witnesses said. He wanted to operate in complete privacy ...
"I know that he (Dekkers) wanted to buyout everybody on the block, so to speak, and he wanted to have a monopoly on the airport," chief flight instructor Hammersley told us. "That was one of his goals. Then, I just saw it as a short Dutch man with a French complex, called a Napoleon complex."
Dekkers and Hilliard exhibited a peculiar secretiveness, unusual in small town businessmen.
"I flew down to Naples one day, and the deputy in charge of airport security said something funny," Coy Jacob told us.
"He said, 'Wally and Rudi never talk inside a building, they go out to an airplane and talk inside the plane."'
But it was Rudi Dekkers we heard came from people aware of his penchant for sexually harassing young female employees, some as young as eighteen, that removed any doubts about his character for us.
"I personally witnessed him sneak up behind this kid that worked for him and stick something that looked like a broom handle up the back of her skirt," stated one eyewitness angrily. "And Dekkers is a fat slob of a middle-aged guy. It was sick."
"Even though he's married he was always after the young girls who worked for him to take little 'rides' with him in his helicopter, always for a half an hour or so at a time."
Dekkers settled one lawsuit brought by Nicole Antini, an 18 year-old girl who used to work for him, the Gondolier reported. Records were sealed, and the settlement enjoined the girl to keep silent, which she did.
But when the beefy Dutch national tried to renege on the set tlement's terms, the young girl's attorney filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement, and the sealed complaint became public information for the first time.
It included contemporaneous notes taken by Nicole and painted a vivid portrait of life at Huffman Aviation during the time Atta and Marwan were there.
"As long as I worked at Huffman Aviation I have been subjected to sexual harassment by Rudi Dekkers," the girl told the court.
"Can I bite into you?" Dekkers asked her on one occasion, stated her notes. Told that he was 'sick,' Dekkers' replied, "I know, I just can't help it. Look at you: your hair, your face, your ass ... you're a hot girl!"
On another occasion the middle-aged Dutch national asked his young female employee, barely out of high school, if he could "buy her."
"Buy me what?" she responds.
"You know, just buy you. It should be like in the olden days. I should be able to just buy you," Dekkers replied.
In the same conversation, Dekkers wondered aloud what the reaction would be if someone walked into his office while he was tucking his shirt back into his pants.
"Wouldn't that be funny if somebody walked in now as I'm putting my shirt away? They would think I was fucking you!"
Once Dekkers asked her, "Did you see that Russian girl I had in here? I couldn't hire her, because she's Russian. But I did tell her I had a job for her."
"In the pilot shop?" the young employee asked.
"No, I told her she could give me a blow job," Dekkers replied.
Dekkers, the girl wrote, told her, "You're beautiful when you're mad."
To which she replied, "You have no right touching my pants."
The young woman's allegations were confirmed by numerous other women who had close contact with him, including Amanda Keller, Mohamed Atta's former live-in girlfriend, who knew Dekkers from waiting in the flight school lounge for Atta to land.
"Rudi Dekkers ... He's a total pervert," she said. "A really nasty, nasty man."
"He said to me one time, 'What would it take for me to have a piece of you?' I told him I didn't know what he was talking about. He said, 'Oh come on you know what I mean,"' Keller told us.
"He's lucky she (Nicole) was the only one with enough nerve to sue him," said a woman close to a Huffman executive. "He sexually harassed nearly every girl there, including the young 18 year-olds working in the restaurant."
Almost everyone at the small Venice Airport was aware of numerous allegations of sexual harassment against him. "Yeah, I heard that," Coy Jacob said. "That was the rumor around the airport."
"The airport is a small community. It's like a microcosm of society, most airports are. People- women leave, and I've heard that there have been problems down there."
His former office manager in Venice, Sue DeAngelis, wouldn't be specific with her complaints about sexual harassment from her boss. She said she was thinking of suing him herself. But she did say, a little grimly, "I put up with a lot of stuff from him. It was ugly. My experience with Rudi was unbelievable."
One of Mohamed Atta's flight instructors at Huffman, Greg Woods, wrote to us about how hellish an experience it had been awaiting "the biweekly arrival of a depraved cuckoo bird in his private helicopter, screaming insults at various employees, sexually harassing the purposely chosen young and unsuspecting office workers and leaving everyone dazed and unbelieving at the upheaval of their routines."
The man whose glib tale about the terrorist hijackers walking in his front door was the foundation for the FBI's story about them in this country is a liar, a cheat and a thief, yet the FBI expected the American people to believe him, because without Rudi Dekkers' testimony the official story was back at Square One.
Maybe that's why although he was interviewed by every 'news- hour journalist' in America, there was nary a hardball question from the lot of them.
Local newsmen observed that, through it all, Dekkers had been acting as unconcerned as a diplomat with a parking ticket.
"He acted like he had some kind of diplomatic immunity," Gondolier Editor Bob Mudge said, shaking his head at the memory.
Maybe Dekkers did.
Former bookkeeper Charlie Voss told of hearing him talk with his bankers in ways ordinary people wouldn't, for example. "I've heard banks call him up 'cuz he's bouncing checks in his accounts, and heard him say to them, 'I haven't got time to keep track of that."
The character -- or lack of same -- of Rudi Dekkers matters for only one reason. If Dekkers is lying about being an innocent and victimized business owner, then Mohamed Atta didn't 'just happen' to stumble into his Venice, Florida flight school, and, in Dekkers we would be looking at the 'Southeast Regional Manager' for the global network said to have assisted the hijackers.
With what we've already learned about Rudi Dekkers, we didn't expect that his track record for telling the truth would be all that great ... And we were right. He was the opposite of a 'straight- shooter', said people who know him well.
"I've certainly had occasions when Mr. Dekkers had told me something that turned out not to be true," said Venice Gondolier Editor Bob Mudge with a smile.
"It's common knowledge around the airport," said Coy Jacob. "In fact the phrase you hear a lot of times is 'you can't believe what he says.' He doesn't have a lot of credibility."
Former employee Charlie Voss was "not even a short-time friend of Rudi's," he told us. "I don't have too much to say about him. But if his lips are moving, he's lying. And if he's not lying, his lips ain't moving."
From the day of the attack until now there has been an un spoken question hanging in the air at the Venice Airport, said a flight instructor who knew both Dutch national flight school owners well. "To what extent he would go to succeed?" asked Tom Hammersley.
He shrugged. "I don't know his character well enough to comment on it. I think in a lot of ways he's very ambitious."
Over the placid golf courses and shuffleboard courts dotting the Florida Gulf Coast during the year before the attack, the clock was ticking. But on the ground the only sound was the noise made by Dekkers himself. Well before the 9111 attack he was being characterized in the local Venice Gondolier as a fast talking con-man of dubious repute. A headline from the day after the attack read: "Huffman Aviation no stranger to headlines."
"Huffman Aviation Inc. has had problems in the last few months with the city of Venice, Sarasota County and the state of Florida, but the school keeps flying," the paper reported.
Huffman Aviation wasn't paying its rent out at the airport. Dekkers was a deadbeat.
"I don't think I knew anything at all about Rudi, even his taking over of Huffman, until April or maybe early May of last year when he missed a rent payment -- right after I found out he was behind on several months rent," said Bob Mudge, editor of the Venice Gondolier.
"The only fixed based operator at the Venice Municipal Airport was I think at that time three months behind in his rent and had gotten a demand letter being threatened with eviction."
Dekkers was receiving a rolling drumbeat of bad press. "Huffman Rent Is Late Again," ran the paper's May 12, 2001 headline.
"When Huffman Aviation paid three months of overdue rent, company president Rudi Dekkers said the rent wouldn't be late again. 'No, we won't have this any more,' he said during an interview," the paper reported.
Coverage got even less flattering as time went by: "City Threatens Lessee With Eviction, Again," was the embarrassing headline on June 9, 2001, just three months before the terrorist attack.
Not threatened with eviction. Threatened with eviction again.
"Huffman Aviation, Inc. is again on notice from the city to catch up on its rent payments or face eviction from the airport," said the paper.
Nothing about Dekkers' rent status had changed by mid-summer. The continuing saga made Huffman Aviation a regular item in local coverage.
"Huffman Rent Late Again," headlined the Gondolier in late July. "For the sixth straight month, Huffman Aviation, Inc. has failed to pay its rent to the city on time," read the account.
When, less than a month before the September 11th tragedy, Rudi Dekkers finally paid Huffman Aviation's rent, even that was considered newsworthy.
"Huffman pays rent," the paper headlined.
It must have been good for a chuckle. But back when the Gondolier was highlighting Rudi Dekkers' shortfalls, it wasn't of interest, except locally. No one thought to question Dekkers about how he came to be suddenly flush with cash. He wasn't notorious, yet.
But when we first learned the 'news' -- months after 9/11 -- that he had finally managed to pay Huffman Aviation's rent on time, our blood went cold. Because where did he come up with the money?
If something changed in Rudi Dekkers financial condition just three weeks before the attack, we wanted to see him hauled in for questioning.
Another question was why Dekkers, whose 'clients' were forking over more than double the going rate for flight training, had always been late paying his rent.
Even after collecting a 'terrorist surcharge, Dekkers came up short. We weren't the only ones who wondered. Bill Warner, a private investigator in Sarasota probing so-far unpublicized connections there to the terrorist conspiracy, said he couldn't believe what he was seeing.
"General aviation has been in serious downturn since the attack. At the Venice Airport, it's been -- understandably -- even worse ... Remember the stories about how Rudi Dekkers had so much trouble coming up with his rent at the airport?" he asked.
"Rudi Dekkers isn't having trouble paying his rent anymore," he said, a little in awe of the implications of what he was saying.
Less than a month before the September 11th attack, things changed for the better for 'flight school owner' Dekkers.
Rudi finally got caught up on his rent. Imagine that.
In the aftermath of the attack, while general aviation suffered, every aviation concern at the Venice Airport was late at least once with their monthly rent.
Every business but one...
Before the attack Rudi Dekkers' Huffman Aviation became a standing joke in Venice, Florida because he couldn't pay the rent on time. But after the attack?
Even with the disastrous affect 9/11 had on general aviation, with every aviation concern at the airport missing payments, one business paid on time each and every month, like clockwork.