Federal agents are looking into an aircraft leasing operation in Florida that is operated by two ex-racing drivers. They are suspected of leasing airplanes to South American drug distributors, according to court documents filed this week in Miami.
Agents from the DEA, FBI and Department of Homeland Security raided the offices of World Jet Inc. in Fort Lauderdale this week. The office is run by Don and Bill Whittington, brothers who have competed in the Indianapolis 500 and other famous races. They also worked with another driver as they won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France in 1979.
Later on, both of the brothers admitted their guilt in a $72 million pot smuggling operation that apparently financed their entire careers in racing.
Now, according to the DEA search warrant, the Whittingtons are believed to have illegally leased aircraft in Florida to cocaine dealers and money launderers through a ranch and hot springs resort in Colorado. Both are facing serious federal drug charges in the case.
According to a DEA spokeswoman, the agency is doing the investigation but is not providing more details at this time. Agents were witnessed carrying several boxes of documents and other materials from the office of World Jet at the Fort Lauderdale airport this week.
Charges have not been filed at this time. An employee for World Jet would not comment on the investigation when reached by phone, and the Whittingtons are not responding to emails. It is not known if they have lawyers yet.
The DEA states that World Jet is leasing and selling airplanes to Colombian drug dealers at high prices. They have the planes under their name or in the name of a third party, and keep a US tail number. After a few months, the plane is given back to World Jet.
The DEA stated in court that if the airplane is seized in a drug operation, then both parties are able to deny any responsibility and World Jet then can get the plane back.
Several airplanes that were traced to World Jet apparently were involved in several drug operations. One was a Hawker 700 jet that was seized by the government in Venezuala. One informant claimed that the plane was intended to carry over two tons of cocaine.
Another plane, a Beech King Air 300, was leased to the top person in a South African firm that is being investigated for laundering drug profits from the drug and weapons trade in the US.
The resort that is apparently involved in this investigation is the Springs Resort and Spa, located in Pagosa Springs, CO. The daughters of Bill Whittington are believed to be the operators of the resort.
Pagosa Springs CO approved an expansion plan in recent months that intended to increase the number of geothermal pools and to build a larger hotel. The DEA believes that some of the drug money is being used to invest in the spa and hotel.
The Whittingtons have been involved in the illegal drug trade before. Both men were sentenced in the 1980s after they pleaded guilty for their work in a big pot smuggling operation. Bill Whittington had to give up several race cars, planes and boats to the federal government in a plea agreement.