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View Full Version : Panama seizes Learjet, imprisons 2 Houston pilots



Ed Jewett
05-22-2011, 05:35 AM
Panama seizes Learjet, imprisons 2 Houston pilots
$2.3 million in cash found on upscale aircraft
By DANE SCHILLER
HOUSTON CHRONICLE
May 21, 2011, 7:32AM


Two Houston-area pilots are imprisoned in Panama after the Learjet they were flying was found to be carrying $2.3 million in cash.
The plane is owned by the president of a small Houston oil and gas exploration company who said Thursday that the men have been wrongfully detained, as they didn't know about the money. The money belongs to a passenger who chartered the aircraft to fly from Honduras to Panama, he said.
The upscale Learjet, which seats seven, has remained in the custody of the Panamanian government since it was stopped May 7.
"The accusation is drug- related. That is why they are being held," said Blakenergy chief David Blake, who owns the plane as part of his separate aviation company.
"I have my attorney down in Panama at the moment to do every thing he can to first and foremost release the pilots," Blake said. "They have families."
A U.S. official declined to comment but confirmed an investigation is under way.
A Panamanian government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed pilots Kenneth Chonoski and Carl Moody were in custody, as were three of the passengers.
A woman who answered the phone at an address associated with Chonoski said she knew nothing about the matter and quickly hung up.
Both men are registered as pilots with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Blake said he purchased the plane a few months ago as an investment and leased it long-term to a charter aviation company that employed the pilots and handled the flight to Panama. He declined to identify the charter company.
The Latin American newspaper El Heraldo reported in a dispatch from Honduras that all aboard the aircraft were held on suspicion of money-laundering, but the Panamanian official who spoke to the Chronicle would not discuss any charges.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration also declined to comment.
The plane was flying along a corridor often used for leap-frogging drugs toward the United States as well as sending bulk cash back to South America.
Blake reiterated that he did not know anyone on the plane or anything about the cash.
"It is not a company plane we utilize," he said. "I have no knowledge of where it goes or who they fly."
This incident marks the second time in recent months that a Houston-based energy company has been tied to a private jet detained overseas.
In February in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a plane leased by CAMAC was impounded and the people aboard were held on suspicion of smuggling gold.
The plane and the people were later released after a hefty fine was paid.
Blake said he'll stay patient.
"What I'm finding out is nothing is quick there, and we are doing everything we can to get through this," he said.


Read more:http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/7574330.html#ixzz1N3YRmmX1

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