Armory on jet sent tipster to feds
SECURITY AVIATION: Former flight paramedic says she and her husband called authorities.
By RICHARD MAUER
Anchorage Daily News
Published: February 12, 2006
Last Modified: February 12, 2006 at 04:27 AM
Melissa Bucknall has been a flight paramedic for about a decade, but nothing in her emergency training and experience prepared her for what she saw last summer when her work brought her in contact with the men who had taken over Security Aviation.
"It was all very strange to me," she said in an interview recently. "It was like a bunch of big boys playing a game. They all claimed to be FBI agents and ex-CIA, and SWAT teams."
It was months before the Feb. 2 raids by heavily armed federal agents on the air-charter company's Anchorage and Palmer hangars and the Midtown offices of several related companies. And it was before a prosecutor described one of the men Bucknall had encountered, Rob Kane, as a fraud, and a federal magistrate compared the strange facts in the case to a Sidney Sheldon thriller.
Bucknall, working medevac duty for Alaska Regional Hospital, was having her own doubts about the boasts of the men and the purpose of their companies, she said, even as they showed her their caches of weapons.
Early one morning last September, she said, they seemed eager to show off their new jet and their weaponry, despite what she and others describe as their compulsion toward secrecy.
She had just returned to Anchorage from an emergency flight and arrived at the Security hangar on the south side of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport around 2 a.m. One of the company's Gulfstream executive jets had just landed too, she said.
"It was real secretive, nobody was supposed to know they were there, they had everything locked. Well, we just happened to come back on a medevac mission at the same time," Bucknall said.
Among those on board the Gulfstream were Kane, the self-styled "commander" who last week FBI agents identified as a "principal" of a string of companies associated with Security Aviation and its owner, Anchorage lawyer Mark Avery. Dennis Hopper, an Anchorage firearms dealer, was also on board the jet, Bucknall said.
Avery, Hopper and Security president Joseph Kapper didn't return numerous calls from the Daily News seeking comment. Kane's attorney also did not return a call. Kane himself is in custody on federal firearms charges, accused of illegal possession of two 16-tube rocket launchers capable of being fitted to Avery's private fleet of Czech L-39 military trainer jets.
There is no evidence that Kane went to the black market to acquire rockets, firing mechanisms or other components that could turn the trainers into the kind of L-39 ground-attack aircraft acquired by the air forces of Iraq, Libya and Syria in the 1970s.
Federal authorities have seized the L-39s, said FBI spokesman Eric Gonzalez, but neither Gonzalez nor prosecutors would give details about their investigation or what they discovered in the raids.
CACHE OF WEAPONS
Joe Griffith, a former tactical fighter wing commander at Elmendorf Air Force Base and a pilot who has worked for Security Aviation, said the rocket launchers were purchased in the open market. They were only good for show, he said.
At that early morning in September, Kane and Hopper invited Bucknall to board the Gulfstream, a plane with intercontinental range and one of two Avery had recently acquired. They told her they had just arrived from overseas.
"Come see what we have," one of them told her, she recalled.
"They had it set up under the guise of a medevac, with a full bar in it, by the way," she said. The cabin was comfortable, but they were also eager to show off what was under the cabin floor.
When they lifted the carpet and undid the hatch, she saw a compartment filled with weapons: guns on hangers, devices that looked like grenades or smoke bombs, flak jackets -- enough for a half-dozen men to hold off a sizable attacking force.
"They had enough handguns in there to stick in every single pocket they could ever think of," she said. There were two heavy machine guns, the kind that usually mount on a tripod, and at least two belts of large-caliber ammunition for them. She saw assault rifles and ammo clips and silencers, she said.
She said she asked why they needed the weapons. "They said that they were for whenever they transported dignitaries and they took prisoners," she said. "They said they worked for the government, and they took prisoners to interrogate them."
Bucknall had heard that kind of talk before, she said. Kane frequently claimed he was connected to the CIA and FBI, she said, though she found it hard to believe that anyone with legitimate ties to those agencies would boast about it.
C STREET OFFICES
Avery bought Security Aviation in summer 2005, and followed with an acquisition binge of aircraft, including two Gulfstreams, the Czech military training jets, helicopters and other craft. A September article in the Alaska Journal of Commerce said Avery's staff had quickly grown from 28 to 80, including 45 pilots. FAA records show at least 21 aircraft currently registered to Avery's companies.
FAA flight records show the Gulfstreams have made flights to Asia, Europe and the Bahamas.
Bucknall, a former board member of the International Association of Flight Paramedics, got to know Avery and his staff because Security officials were interested in the lucrative medevac business. She worked as an aviation paramedic for Alaska Regional Hospital. Dr. Donald Hudson, medical director of Regional's Lifeflight aeromedical service and an emergency room physician there, was also in business with Avery. Around the time Avery took over Security, he and Hudson created an emergency medical business called Aero Resources LLC, according to state records.
Hudson didn't return calls by the Daily News to several of his business offices.
When it was established, Aero Resources listed its office as 3230 C St., the headquarters for Avery's operations, though Hudson reported to the Alaska Division of Corporations on Jan. 10 that he took over the business from Avery.
Hopper and Kane had second-floor offices in the C Street building.
Avery's C Street headquarters and Security Aviation's facilities at the Anchorage and Palmer airports were targeted in simultaneous raids Feb. 2 by dozens of heavily armed federal agents. Only Kane has been charged. He remains in jail, denied bail by a federal magistrate who ruled Wednesday that he was a flight risk.
Kane's penchant for boasting surfaced in testimony at his bail hearing last week, with the prosecutor describing him as a "con man" who possessed official-looking badges and identification cards. Kane's attorney asserted Kane in fact had official connections that could be proven at trial.
Bucknall said her work took her to the C Street building several times, most recently in December after she had moved to Dutch Harbor. She said the building, a former branch of First Interstate Bank, was like a fortress. Doors, passageways and the elevator were protected by key cards and keypad devices, with deeper parts of the building requiring increasing levels of clearance to reach, she said.
A document from one of the Avery companies introduced in evidence Wednesday showed that its officials were considering installing armor in two of their Suburbans, at least one Gulfstream jet and a helicopter.
Bucknall said she was always accompanied when she went into the C Street building. She recalled three visits when Hopper was her escort.
Hopper's office was on the second floor, down the hall from a bar with a big-screen TV and leather lounge chairs, and living quarters for pilots needing a place to sleep after long flights, she said. On the wall past Hopper's office was a framed certificate for another Avery company, High Security Aviation, then an L-shaped corner and a room guarded with "a vault lock," she said.
The windowless room was "just floor-to-ceiling weapons," Bucknall said, with an area for a gunsmith to work. "Rob Kane was in the building, but Dennis showed it to me. It was kind of his hangout."
She saw "silenced .22s," she said, and "fully automatic weapons with silencers."
As far as she could see, they all had price tags, she said.
"They were all for sale," she said. "They were running them back and forth when they'd do these international missions -- they would take them with them and he would trade them for goods," she said she was told by Hopper.
AN ANONYMOUS TIP
Adding to the aura of government sanction, Avery, Hopper, Kane and other top company officials wore credentials inside the building that carried the White House logo, Bucknall said. "They claimed to have a direct line to George Bush and said they had a government credit card, and that's how they were buying these aircraft," she said.
Hopper once claimed to her that he was a bounty hunter, she said. "He said that he worked for the government and he went to go pick up the bad guys that nobody else could get."
Bucknall said her job as a flight paramedic in Dutch Harbor with Alaska Regional ended in December, when another company replaced the hospital's operation. She began working in the medical clinic there; her husband is a local policeman.
Last month, she said, she and her husband left an anonymous tip about the weapons in a phone message to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, but otherwise she has not had any contact with federal law enforcement agencies, she said.
Bucknall said she wouldn't be surprised if others were afraid to come forward. In testimony at Kane's hearing Tuesday, an FBI agent said many of the employees of Avery's companies were required to sign confidentiality pledges.
Bucknall said the tactic was effective.
"I had flight partners go in the same C Street headquarters, and they showed a couple of them these weapons," she said. "They made them sign this confidentiality agreement and then scared the hell out of them. They told them that if they ever told anybody, they would be breaking all these laws and can be arrested."
Perhaps I didn't read closely enough, but I saw no allegations of criminal activity other than blowhard asshattery, which I think falls under state rather than federal jurisdiction.
What about the heavy MG? Perhaps they are charged under the NFA?
They bought 2 16-shot rocket pods for the L-39 jets without telling the ATF about it. That's what led to the involvement of the feds.
This story keeps getting more bizarre everyday. I wonder where all the money came from to finance all of this.
Sounds like another soccer mom bitch...."Oh my god, guns, I have to turn them in"
"They had enough handguns in there to stick in every single pocket they could ever think of," she said.
Thats classic. I bet I could think of a few more !!
Sounds like someone
That bitch should see what I carry on the plane when I fly myself somewhere.....
These guys were asshats for running their mouths. I'd like to see what she looks like. I bet they were trying to get in her pants.
She probably exposed a covertly funded CIA or similar usage of private contractors for operations elsewhere. My guess is that the case will quietly disappear.
these guys sound like a bunch of posers
Not going to argue with that. But look at their toys.
Shoulda kept their mouths shut.
Gulfstreams, helicopters, a mini Air Force, machine guns? Why would you jepordize that?
The Ca$h for this had to have come from somewhere, although these guys do sound like morons for being so open about it all, especially what sounds like trying to impress a lady.