The Red Goose Blues – Part 2
In July 1983, two brothers from Ft. White, FL (and who were also named Johnson – just like the lawyer in nearby Gainesville who originally setup Goose Transport Inc. for Rick McPherron) showed up in Belize and bought the forfeited seaplane from the government of Belize through its agent, Mr. C. L. B. Rogers, Minister of Defense and Home Affairs, for the sum of $20,000 Belize dollars. (*The exchange rate is something like $1 USD = 2 BZD so it may be that it cost the Johnson brothers as little as $10,000 USD and also that the bail paid by the smugglers for that matter was equivalent to only $1,000 USD.)
From that point on, the airplane’s official records as far as the FAA is concerned dwindled to almost nothing. A subsequent application was made on September 21, 1983 to re-register the aircraft in the US to the new owners, the Johnson brothers. Ten months later, on July 17, 1984, they managed to clear the chattel mortgage that had been filed with the FAA against the airplane in the name of Av-Investors, Inc. and in the process, gain free and clear title to the airplane.
On August 18, 1984, application was made for new registration of N33S in the name of Waterlines Ltd., a tax-shelter corporation registered in the state of Delaware. A short time later, a request was made to the FAA to change the Goose’s registration number from N33S to N66QA on January 13, 1985. And finally at least as far as this chapter in its existence was concerned, a formal bill of sale for N66QA was filed on March 11, 1985 showing the sale of the Goose by the Johnson brothers to the corporate entity, Waterlines Ltd. of Delaware.
At that point, except for the bureaucratic paperwork showing the conveyance release for the chattel mortgage finally being registered on August 29, 1985, there is nothing more to the official history of Grumman G-21A serial no. 1054 as far as actual FAA records are concerned. Even its last registration, still as N66QA to nominal owner Waterlines Ltd. hasn’t changed since that time except to have expired in June 2013.
In spite of the lack of official records, it is known that this Goose eventually wound up back in southern Louisiana. According to evidence found in what remains of its logbooks, Miller’s Flying Service in Eunice, LA obtained microfiche copies of its official records from the FAA archives in Oklahoma City in 1994. From there however, it went to Discount Aircraft Salvage in Deer Park, WA outside of Spokane. In 2001, it was found there and bought by Antilles Seaplanes LLC of Gibsonville, NC, then trucked back across the country with hopes of being able to restore it once again.
However, with the significant downturn in the world-wide economy that started in 2008, the Antilles Seaplanes program to resurrect the McKinnon Goose turbine-engine conversion program was forced to shut down. Ever since being moved to another warehouse in Graham, NC in September 2009, the remnants of N66QA, affectionately known to the Antilles employees as the “Texaco Goose”, have sat forlornly idle and unjustly neglected for the better part of a decade – waiting for a restoration that may never be done.
Regardless of its current sad state of affairs, the seizure of N33S in Belize was not the end of the story for its drug-smuggling former owners in northern Florida. While the Goose itself was in the process of being brought back to the US and re-registered to a legitimate owner once again, the wheels of justice had been turning. After a “lengthy” two-year investigation, federal authorities convened a grand jury on February 24, 1984 and indicted 13 members of a supposedly major central Florida drug smuggling ring whose operations spanned the following list of counties and associated cities as applicable: Volusia (Daytona Beach), Alachua (Gainesville), Marion (Ocala), Orange (Orlando), Lake, and Seminole (Sanford.)
According to both court records and newspaper accounts found online, among those who were arrested were (ages listed as of the date of the indictments):
• Juan Carlos de la Fuente, 44, of Lake Helen, a native of Spain and a construction worker who was the reported ring leader and “kingpin” of the entire drug smuggling operation.
• Johnny Dean Hall, 30, of Orlando, acted as “loadmaster” on the seaplane during smuggling flights and dumped the drugs out of the hatch to others waiting on the ground.
• Janet L. Kaser, 43, of Lake Helen was heavily and actively involved in the distribution and sale of de la Fuente’s marijuana, and her husband Jim Kaser was also later implicated as well. Jim and Janet Kaser were collectively also known as “J & J”.
• Lawrence Edward “Larry” Fitzpatrick, 38, of Ormond Beach, was a real estate broker who aided in the distribution and sale of the drugs, and who laundered money for the operation through real estate dealings as well; he took a plea deal and testified for the prosecution.
• Karl Michael Koermandy, 32, of Lakeland, acted as ground crew to recover the drugs dropped from the seaplane before it landed to clear Customs.
• Denny Eugene Martin, 38, of Casselberry, whose role in the continuing criminal enterprise also was not detailed. Someone named “Dennis Eugene Martin” was later convicted in Hillsborough Co. for committing a lewd & lascivious act, a second degree felony, and was originally sentenced to 8 years incarceration, but upon appeal by the State in 1987, that term was raised to a mandatory maximum of 15 years.
• Richard Lynn “Rick” McPherron, 40, of Gainesville, was the seaplane pilot. (He died Nov. 6, 2009 at the age of 66 and it appears from public records that his “day” job later in life may have been as a roofing contractor.)
• Robert Jerome McTeer, 40, of Haines City, organized and financed the seaplane operation through Av-Investors, Inc. and Goose Transport, Inc. (Born 4/12/1944; died 7/24/2014 from cancer.)
• Stephen Robert “Rob” Bollinger, 31, of St. Petersburg, actively participated in the distribution and sale of the drugs.
• Bruce Hayes Munro, 34, of Daytona Beach, also actively participated in the distribution and sale of the drugs after they were smuggled into the US.
• Oscar Cruz-Barrientos, 42, a Honduran national, was a pilot who flew the drugs from Bolivia to Honduras prior to its transfer to the seaplane.
• Robert Starr, age and address unknown; his role in the drug smuggling operation also was not detailed, but he ended up taking a plea deal and testified for the government.
• Charles “Big Charlie” Burroughs, (aka “B. C.”) who acted as right-hand man, money collector, and bookkeeper for de la Fuente, also acted as ground crew to recover the drugs dropped from the seaplane before it landed to clear Customs. He testified as a witness for the prosecution.
• Charles Hitchens, also acted as ground crew to recover the drugs dropped from the seaplane before it landed in the US and his house was used as a distribution center for the drugs. He too acted as a witness and testified on behalf of the prosecution.
In addition, de la Fuente’s sister, Gloria Perez, 51, a citizen of Spain who was visiting her brother at the time, was arrested and detained on a material witness warrant. Other persons of interest and potential witnesses included Joseph Crawford and Ernie Ratte but specific details of their respective involvements in the drug operations were not provided in the appellate court materials.
The primary criminal charges involved:
• engaging in a Continuing Criminal Enterprise,
• conspiracy to possess cocaine and in excess of 1,000 pounds of marijuana with intent to distribute,
• possession of more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana with intent to distribute, (the authorities believed that the actual amounts totaled more than 25,000 lbs. and even as much as 40,000 lbs. of marijuana over the course of 3 years.)
• conspiracy to import cocaine,
• actual importation of cocaine, and
• possession of cocaine with intent to distribute (on the order of about 100 lbs.)
In the interest of fairness and impartiality however, it should be noted as well that in spite of having been indicted for participation in a conspiracy to import and distribute drugs using the Goose, in the end, not all of the defendants were convicted on all charges. According to an article in the June 15, 1984 edition of the Lakeland Ledger newspaper:
“After a four-week trial and nearly four days of deliberation, a federal court jury found Juan Carlos de la Fuente guilty of four charges, including using the drug organization as a continuing criminal enterprise.
De la Fuente, 44, of Lake Helen, faces a minimum mandatory prison term of 10 years to life.
Also convicted Wednesday on other charges of drug possession, distribution or conspiracy, were Karl Koermandy, 32, of Lakeland; Robert McTeer, 39, or Haines City; Rob Bollinger, 31, of St. Petersburg; Bruce Munro, 33, of Daytona Beach; and Richard McPherron, 40, of Gainesville.
The jury acquitted Johnnie Dean Hall, 30, or Orlando, of conspiracy. It could not reach a verdict on conspiracy charges against Oscar Cruz-Barrientos, 42, of Honduras, or de la Fuente, McPherron, and Koermandy.
De La Fuente was charged with heading the group, which prosecutors say imported 100 pounds of cocaine and 40,000 pounds of marijuana into Florida in 1981 and 1982. The others allegedly acted as pilots, unloaders and money collectors.”
Note too that nobody named “Robert Gilstrap” was ever officially listed among the people implicated or indicted for involvement in the drug smuggling operation using Grumman Goose N33S. Either the name was an alias in the first place (although Rick McPherron obviously used none) or apparently after his close-call with the authorities in Belize in November 1982, Mr. Gilstrap went back to the straight and narrow and stayed away from trouble from then on.
The other significant thing about all of the court records is that they make it obvious that the Goose was actually operated by the drug-smugglers for at least another two years after it was involved in the late-night, ground collision accident with the Beech 18 at the Gainesville airport in September 1980 – until it was seized by the local Police in Belize in November 1982. However, not a single subsequent maintenance entry was ever made in any of its logbooks – if any maintenance was even done to it during that time.
Authorities estimated that the Goose was used to carry payloads of approximately 1,000 lbs of drugs on each trip that it made back from Honduras. Law enforcement officials and prosecutors also later alleged that the group eventually imported at least 25,000 lbs. and maybe even as much as 40,000 lbs. of marijuana and cocaine into the US. That means at least 25 and possibly even 40 flights or more were made from Gainesville FL to Honduras and back. That’s a distance of over 900 nautical miles (1,040 statute miles) along the shortest great circle route and probably close to 7 hours of flight time each way. That in turn equates to at least 350 to 560 hours Time in Service for the Goose that went undocumented – and realistically speaking it was probably much more.
In spite of its unique and storied history, the Goose was apparently just a simple “tool” to the smugglers. One day hopefully it will be restored and treated like the rare treasure that it really is.
Dave Marion is the Technical Content Editor at Seaplanemagazine.com. As A&P and IA with 29 years of experience in aircraft maintenance, he is also a Commercial Pilot with Airplane, Single & Multi-Engine, and Instrument ratings. He has a BA from Colgate University in 1984 and also graduated cum laude from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (DAB) with a BS in Aviation Technology in 1990. He can be reached along with all of the editors via E-Mail: [email protected]