2 Houston-area pilots in limbo amid rumors of DEA plot
Dane Schille, Houston Chronicle Copyright 2012 Houston Chronicle. All
rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast,
rewritten or redistributed.
By Dane Schiller
Updated 11:31 p.m., Saturday, January 28, 2012
A ranking California congressman contends two Houston-area pilots
arrested in Panama were unknowingly snared in a botched money-
laundering operation by the Drug Enforcement Administration, which
did nothing to stop the innocent Americans from going to prison.
But sources told the Houston Chronicle on Saturday it was not a DEA
case and the claims are rooted in a fast-talking occasional DEA
informant, who was a passenger on the private jet and tried to squirm
out of getting busted with $2.3 million in dirty money last May.
"He just got caught," said a source familiar with events. "It appears
it was an informant who was doing it without the knowledge of the
DEA. They do that all the time. They play both sides (of the law)."
U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., head of the House Committee on
Oversight and Government Reform, wrote to U.S. Attorney General Eric
Holder on Friday to say he'd received "quite unsettling" information
about a DEA money-laundering operation that landed the pilots in prison.
It was the latest in a string of accusations against federal law
enforcement by Issa, who has been vociferously critical of the Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and its bungled
undercover gun-running operation known as "Fast and Furious." ATF
allowed people suspected of being low-level smugglers to buy and
transport guns across the border in hopes of finding higher-level
operatives, but it lost track of hundreds of weapons. Two were found
in Arizona, where an American Border Patrol agent was shot to death
But DEA Spokeswoman Dawn Dearden said Saturday the incident in Panama
was not a DEA matter.
"The investigation, in fact, was initiated and conducted unilaterally
by the Panamanian government," she said. "DEA became aware of the
incident only after being contacted by the Panamanian officials for
The pilots, Kenneth Chonoski and Carl Moody, were imprisoned in
Panama and conditionally released a few months ago. But their
passports have been seized and they are not allowed to leave the
The two men were flying a Learjet 55 from Honduras and made a stop in
Panama with their passengers, a Colombian and two Hondurans. The
three passengers are in prison, pending the prosecution's outcome.
"We continue to make every effort to get our pilots back to the U.S.
safely and expeditiously," said Bruce Hicks, a spokesman for American
Jet International, which is based at Hobby airport and employs the
Issa could not be reached for comment Saturday, but his two-page
letter to Holder makes bold contentions. He states that while the
plane was on the ground before flying to another country, Panama
officials were tipped that several million dollars were in the
luggage of one of the passengers.
That passenger turned out to be a prominent longtime client of the
Houston-based jet company and also a DEA informant, the letter
states. He told Panamanian authorities they could not touch the money
because it belonged to the U.S. government.
The congressman's letter delves into detail, saying the informant,
who is not named, had a phone number for a senior DEA agent in the
United States, and that three DEA agents came to the plane while it
was on the ground and did nothing to help the pilots.
He also said the senior agent was aware of what was going on, and
remains involved in the case.
"The agent has been in constant communication with an executive of
the charter-plane corporation," the letter continues. "Instead of
even attempting to assist the innocent pilots, however, the DEA agent
has only been interested in extracting additional information about
the corporation's long-time prominent Latin American client, believed
to be a DEA confidential informant."
Panamanian prosecutor Ida Mirones has previously told the Chronicle
that the customs officials were told the plane would be arriving with
drug cash. She said a passenger tried to evade inspectors by saying
the bags with money belonged to the U.S. government.
Issa's push to know more about DEA's international anti-money-
laundering efforts, and what happened in Panama, come as Holder is
expected to give congressional testimony this week.
The pilots remain on their company's payroll, are living in
condominiums, and have been reunited in Panama with their families.
Panama released the aircraft they were flying, which seats seven and
is outfitted with surround sound and flat-screen televisions, and
cruises at more than 500 mph.
Capturan a 'pollero' mientras se drogaba
Sábado 28 de Enero de 2012 11:04 César Barragán/ElDiario
Un presunto traficante de personas con que cuenta con orden de
aprehensión federal y otra del fuero común, por violación a la Ley
General de Población y delito contra funcionarios públicos,
respectivamente, fue detenido por agentes Municipal y Estatales. Se
trata de, Francisco Heriberto Díaz Valencia, de 22 años, de apodo "El
Pancho Láminas", originario de esta localidad fronteriza, con
domicilio en calle Lago Tarapoto número 152, de la colonia Jardines
de la Montaña, quien dijo ser ayudante de herrero.
Datos oficiales señalan que Díaz Valencia fue detectado drogándose en
la vía pública, esto durante los recorridos de coordinación en la
vigilancia preventiva que se llevan a cabo en diferentes sectores de
Luego de ser retenido, fue trasladado a la Unidad de Análisis e
Inteligencia de Plataforma México en la Jefatura de Policía
Preventiva y Tránsito Municipal, donde fueron ratificados los
Por el delito de violación a la Ley General de Población, por el cual
es requerido por la Procuraduría General de la República (PGR) desde
el 18 de marzo de 2009 y respecto de delito contra funcionarios
públicos, la Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado (PGJE) se
busca con fecha del 18 de abril de 2011.
Por tal motivo el presunto traficante de personas, quedo bajo
custodia de la Policía Federal Ministerial para su cumplimiento.