Feds Claim Aircraft Improperly Sold, Weren't Demilitarized
Earlier this week, federal agents confiscated four F-14 Tomcat
fighters in Southern California belonging to private owners, after
investigators determined the jets had been sufficiently
demilitarized, and may have been improperly sold. Three of those
aircraft belong to aviation museums.
In a court affidavit filed by a US Immigration and Customs
Enforcement Agent, authorities claim the jets weren't stripped of
military hardware before they were sold to an Oxnard, CA scrap
company in the mid-1990s, after the jets were retired at Point Mugu
Naval Air Station.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the planes sold for about
$4,000 apiece. One was purchased by the producers of the television
drama "JAG" to be used as a prop; proceeds from the sale of all
four jets went toward a morale-boasting program at Point Mugu.
Officials with the Defense Department have determined the planes
should have been scrapped by the military -- but, apparently
against orders, the officer in charge sold the planes to California
Public Recycling instead, to be disposed of accordingly. A
consultant with the scrap yard, Marc Keenberg, told officials the
company later resold the planes to another scrap yard, and lost
track of them after that.
On Tuesday, federal agents swept onto the Chino Airport and
seized three planes -- two from the Yanks Air Museum, and another
belonging to Planes of Fame. In a related sting operation, agents
seized the "JAG" plane -- now owned by an aviation firm -- in
Agents learned of the possibly improper sales while
investigating the possible sale of F-14 parts to Iran. As ANN reported, the
belligerent Middle-Eastern country is the only foreign power still
operating the 70s-era fighters... and the US wants to keep any and
all technology and replacement parts from falling into their
"The investigation has not uncovered any evidence that these
planes have been plundered for parts by people with nefarious
motives," said ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice, "but the fact that
they were not properly demilitarized certainly presents a potential
Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the US attorney's office in Los
Angeles, told the Times no one had been charged with doing anything
illegal -- but added the investigation goes on. "There are some
issues related to statute of limitations, and we're examining those
TV producer Donald Bellisario maintains his company went through
the proper channels to purchase the Tomcat used on "JAG."
"They didn't sell us one. They gave us one, and they removed the
engines," said Bellisario, whose company now produces the military
drama "NCIS." "The Navy said to us, 'We can give you an old
aircraft, but we have to demil it before we can give it to you.' I
just assumed that's what happened."
Bellisario added the Navy "broke its back" -- alluding to the
practice of slicing the fuselage in half, then welding it back
together, to render the plane unflyable -- before his company took
delivery of the plane.
Eventually, all four planes wound up under the stewardship of
Aviation Warehouse in El Mirage, which later resold the planes to
Yanks for $50,000 apiece.
"When I bought the planes, everything was 100% totally legal and
aboveboard," said Mark Thomson, president of Aviation Warehouse,
adding he plans to fight what he sees as the government's illegal
search and seizure.