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Friday, Jun 23, 2017
Travel and Beaches

9/11 flight school owner faces cocaine charges

TAMPA A year after he published a book about his travails, the owner of a flight school where two 9/11 hijackers trained has been arrested in Houston on cocaine trafficking charges. A federal judge last week ordered Rudy Dekkers held without bond pending his trial, partially because the Netherlands citizen poses a risk of flight. Dekkers was chief executive officer and president of Huffman Aviation in Venice, where 9/11 terrorists Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi enrolled as students. Dekkers wrote in his book and told interviewers he was financially ruined by news coverage about his unwitting connection with the worst terrorist incident on U.S. soil.
Still, Dekkers immediately volunteered information about his link to the terrorist attack when he appeared at a Texas flight school recently to ask about renting a small airplane, said the general manager, Aaron Stinson. "The first day I met him, he told me all about his past," said Stinson, at The Flight School Inc., in Cypress, Texas. "He said, 'Would you ever want to do some flying for me?' I said absolutely not. You can instantly tell when someone is doing something they probably ought not to be doing." According to a federal complaint filed in Houston, an undercover agent for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was introduced to Dekkers on Halloween by Arturo Astorquiza, who investigators believe is the leader of an international drug trafficking organization. At the meeting, Dekkers told the agent he was involved in transporting narcotics by private aircraft, and had flown drugs and cash with no problems, according to the complaint. Astorquiza was arrested Nov. 5 on Texas firearms charges, and six days later, Dekkers called the undercover agent with information about the arrest. Dekkers told the agent he would be willing to work with the agent on trafficking narcotics, the complaint states. Dekkers called the undercover agent on Nov. 29 to say he would be flying to Houston from Florida the following day to transport narcotics using private aircraft, the complaint states. Dekkers met the agent the following day and said he planned to obtain about six kilos of cocaine and would be paid about $9,000 for piloting the plane. Homeland Security agents put Dekkers under surveillance and watched as he went to Flight School and then to Texas Flight Services Inc. Agents believed Dekkers was asking about renting aircraft. The next day, agents followed Dekkers as he drove to a mall where he met with two men, one later identified as Rogelio Martinez-Flores. And the day after that, Dec. 2, Dekker again visited The Flight School, where he met with Martinez-Flores, who handed him a blue suitcase, according to the complaint. Dekkers left the suitcase at the door and went inside. He and Martinez-Flores were then arrested. Agents later obtained a warrant to search the suitcase and found more than 18 kilos of cocaine and 860 grams of heroin inside, the complaint states. On Monday, a federal judge in Houston issued an order detaining Dekkers, citing "credible evidence" he committed the crimes with which he was charged. U.S. Magistrate George C. Hanks Jr. noted that Dekkers is subject to deportation because he does not have legal status in the U.S. Dekkers' residency status before his arrest was not immediately clear. The judge's order says Dekkers "lacks any real financial assets and lacks gainful employment." Although Dekkers told the court he lives with his wife and their 4-year-old son in Florida, the judge noted evidence that Dekkers' wife actually lives in Cuba.

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7837 Twitter: @ElaineTBO

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