Hilliard bankrolled 911 flight school and rudi dekkers
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Posted Mar. 22, 2004
AMS co-founder bankrolled 9-11 flight academy
New book dramatizes mere coincidences, Hilliard says
By Jean Peerenboom
Terrorists, drug runners, cover-ups, CIA, KGB and shady characters are the cloak-and-dagger kinds of elements that make for a riveting spy novel or action thriller. Itís hardly the place youíd expect to find retired Green Bay businessman Wally J. Hilliard.
Yet Hilliard finds himself in the middle of a nonfiction tale published as "Welcome to Terrorland: Mohamed Atta & the 9-11 Cover-Up in Florida," by Daniel Hopsicker (Mad Cow Press, $29.95). Hopsicker links Hilliard to Huffman Aviation, the flight school that trained Atta and the other hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
The author implicates Hilliard in a complicated plot as the investor in the flight school in Venice, Fla., and owner of a Lear jet that was seized by Drug Enforcement Administration officials after it returned with a passenger who was jailed for possession of heroin.
Hilliard denies any wrongdoing, and no one in the story has been charged with anything. The material was posted on the Internet before being incorporated into the just-published book, so Hilliard has been aware of the claims for some time.
"Through a friend, I talked to an FBI agent," Hilliard said during a visit to Green Bay last week. "He said freedom-of-speech laws protect the author. I could sue for libel, but even if I got $1 million judgment - that and 50 cents would get me a cup of coffee. And Iíd have spent $50,000 in legal fees."
The story begins about six years after Hilliard retired to Naples, Fla. While in Green Bay, Hilliard co-founded Employerís Health Insurance and American Medical Security companies. After selling AMS, he moved to Florida where he golfed "until I got tired of it."
He bought an airplane and decided to lease it for profit. Next he met Rudi Dekkers and invested in the Venice flight school. He denies heís the owner of either the school or the company that owns Lear jets. "I never had stock ownership. The only thing I did was loan money to Rudi. I got paid back at 30 cents on the dollar," Hilliard said.
Degrees of separation
Hopsickerís story picks up Hilliardís connection less than three weeks after hijackers Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi began flying lessons on July 6, 2000. A Lear jet belonging to "the true owner of Huffman Aviation, financier Wallace J. Hilliard, 70, of Naples, Fla., was seized by federal agents at the Orlando Executive Airport after they discovered 43 pounds of heroin onboard."
Hopsicker also writes, "Because while Dekkers busied himself training young Arab men to fly, his partner Wally Hilliard had been running a charter service providing jets used to carry heroin, not a line of work youíd expect a retired Midwestern insurance executive to take up as a hobby on retirement in Florida." Hopsicker also points out that Atta used Orlando as a transportation hub.
"Had Hilliard been an unwitting victim? Like Rudi, an innocent business owner victimized by a world he never made?"
In an interview last week, Hopsicker said Hilliard was "deep into investing" in what went on in Venice and that Dekkers was just a "front man."
"Court filings show he was the owner (of Huffman Aviation) during the time terrorists were flying in and out. The two questions I have are what was he doing in business with Rudi and what was he doing buying up a fleet of planes after retirement?" Hopsicker said.
Hilliard tells the story differently - without reference to government agencies, drug smuggling and terrorist links. He also has gotten to the point where he can chuckle about a story he calls absurd.
"I once owned a Lear jet that was chartered by a pilot in Fort Lauderdale," Hilliard said. "He had a customer in Venezuela and made a few regular trips back and forth. On one trip, it cleared customs and flew to Orlando on the way to Washington, D.C. When they got to Orlando, he was greeted by the DEA. They searched the luggage of the passenger and found heroin.
"The passenger went straight to jail. The pilot went straight to jail for about 15 hours. He may have been dumb, but it wasnít illegal. It was a charter flight, and there was no way the pilot was guilty of anything, and I hadnít been within 50 miles of the plane at the time.
"The only reason you own a Lear jet is to fly it yourself or lease it out for profit," said Hilliard, who has a pilotís license. He said he has owned two Lear jets, not a fleet, as alleged in the book. "And the sale of one and purchase of another may have overlapped so I owned two at a time for a while."
"I had no connection to the flight school. I have no ghost of an idea as to who the students are. They had enough money to pay $40 an hour to learn how to fly a single-engine plane. To learn to fly a jet, they had to go to another flight school up north."
He said, "I donít know what Iíve done to deserve this character assassination. I live my life as morally as I can - trying not to do anything immoral, illegal or fattening.
"My motto is God is not kind to part-timers. I was in it part time. Only do this if you can be in it full time," he said. "You have to really ride herd on those pilots or theyíll skin you."
Hilliard said none of these allegations has caused problems for him. He continues to have a variety of business deals going. He remarried five years ago and adopted his wifeís five children. He also converted to the Mormon faith. He has four children and seven grandchildren from a previous marriage.
"The FAA took a look at these allegations and said there was no problem. Iíve never seen the book. I saw the stuff on the Internet and I went to an attorney. I talked to the FBI and FAA. They all said itís not worth the trouble. Freedom of speech - thatís why we live in America."
Of the book, he said, "Thatís the business heís in. He doesnít care what he has to do to sell books. If I read the book, all it would do is make me mad. I donít even want to mess with that."
Hopsicker is also the author of "Barry & Ďthe boysí - The CIA, the Mob and Americaís Secret History." He continues to write and make documentaries. He was a business news producer for 20 years before becoming an author. His investigative reporting appears in the MadCow Morning News (www.madcowprod.com).