DEA executes search warrant Resort, family implicated in alleged money laundering, drug trafficking


Staff Writer

Affidavit for search warrant
Affidavit for search warrant

A search warrant executed in late October by the Drug Enforcement Agency collected information from several e-mail accounts belonging to members of the Whittington family, including the father and uncle of The Springs Resort and Spa owners Nerissa and Keely Whittington.

The affidavit for the search warrant implicates The Springs, as well as other businesses owned by the Whittington family, in alleged money laundering and drug trafficking offenses.

Magistrate Judge Gordon P. Gallagher in Grand Junction granted the search warrant in U.S. District Court following an investigation detailed in a 35-page affidavit.

The investigation

According to the affidavit, the investigation leading to the search warrant for the e-mails began in April, when a DEA agent from the Miami, Fla. office contacted Special Agent Charles Arnell regarding Reginald “Don” Whittington and his brother, William “Bill” Whittington, with that Miami DEA agent outlining, “a year-long investigation by the DEA Miami Field Division into the drug trafficking facilitation activities of Don Whittington and his company, World Jet, Inc. of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.”

That investigation, the affidavit states, revealed that Don Whittington allegedly sold and leased multiple jet aircraft to purchasing agents of drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) from Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico and Africa.

“According to a DEA Confidential Source (CS1), proceeds from these sales have been invested into a ranch and a hotel or spa, located in western Colorado. CS1 believed that these proceeds are laundered through the hotel or spa owned by Don Whittington’s brother, Bill Whittington. CS1 is known to be reliable and trustworthy, with no known negative performance issues,” the affidavit states.

That ranch is the family’s Three Meadows Ranch located northeast of Pagosa Springs, with the hotel and spa being The Springs. According to a search of Florida records, where both Fawn Gulch LLC (the ranch) and companies relating to The Springs are filed, Nerissa Whittington and Keely Whittington are both listed as registered agents.

The companies are all registered at the same address as Don Whittington’s World Jet, Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The affidavit then states that, in 2008, Bill Whittington submitted a Planned Unit Development to the Town of Pagosa Springs, “which outlined a $250 million USC development plan for the spa and resort to take place over the next 10 to 12 years (2008 to 2018-2020).

The first phase of that PUD was to expand from 18 to 23 geothermal pools and to build a 29-room hotel building on the premises (the Ecoluxe).

“A review of bank records revealed that in 2009, World Jet, Inc. wired a total of $451,000 USC (United States Currency) to an account of the Springs Resort and Spa. During this same time period, bank records indicate that the Springs Resort and Spa wired $111,408 USC back to World Jet, Inc.,” the affidavit states. “Investigators believe that due to the seizure by DEA of $645,000 USC from the bank account of World Jet of Delaware in September of 2009, Don and Bill Whittington changed their method of transferring illegal proceeds from Florida to Colorado from direct wire transfers to indirect wire transfers using third parties and possibly bulk cash transportation.”

Too, the affidavit calls into question a bank account held by Bill Whittington in Lichtenstein, with that account growing from $1,021,700 in 2003 to $10,660,155 in 2012.

“Liechtenstein (sic) is known in financial circles as a preferred financial location for narcotics traffickers who are hiding and laundering narcotics proceeds,” the affidavit states.

The affidavit also reveals that Bill Whittington attempted to open two brokerage accounts with Raymond James Financial Services in Pagosa Springs in April 2012 using a personal check for $1 million, but the firm closed the accounts and returned the money after conducting a background check.

Additionally, the affidavit notes the previous guilty pleas relating to tax and marijuana violations of the Whittington brothers in the 1980s, stating, “In 1986, Bill Whittington pleaded guilty to marijuana importation and federal tax violations and was sentenced to 15 years federal prison. In 1987, Don Whittington pleaded guilty to federal tax violations and was sentenced to 18 months federal prison. As part of a plea deal, Bill Whittington agreed to forfeit $7 million in U.S. Currency and assets to the U.S. Government.”

World Jet, Inc.

Beyond the bank accounts, the affidavit calls into question how Don and Bill Whittington operate World Jet, stating, “CS1 believes that Don and Bill Whittington operate their business as follows: they will negotiate a contract with a DTO or a representative broker acting on behalf of a DTO to lease an aircraft to the DTO. The Whittington brothers will draft a contract which requires a large amount of money to be deposited for the aircraft.”

The affidavit continues, explaining that the contract is often drafted as a lease-to-buy option, with the sale price or deposit required often being more than the aircraft is worth.

“In return for the inflated price,” the affidavit states, “Don Whittington maintains the aircraft in his or a third party name, and keeps the U.S. tail number on the aircraft. After the DTO has finished using the aircraft for an unspecified period of time, the aircraft is returned or ‘repossessed’ by World Jet, Inc. In the event that the aircraft is seized pursuant to a narcotics interdiction, both parties can deny responsibility and World Jet, Inc. can reclaim the aircraft as they hold the financial lien.”

The affidavit also states that Steven Dennis, operations manager at World Jet, is involved in the procuring, leasing and sales of aircraft to DTOs.

The planes

The affidavit delves into details about several planes in particular connected to World Jet, using information from confidential sources about the sale to and use of the planes by DTOs in several countries.

The affidavit discusses several thousand kilograms of cocaine being shipped via the planes leased from World Jet, Inc.

The seizure of one plane, detailed in the affidavit, led to $645,000 being seized from World Jet of Delaware, Inc. by the DEA in 2009.

“On June 25, 2009, DEA Miami and DEA Bogota, Colombia, seized a Piper PA31, bearing tail number N5000H in Popayan, Colombia. N5000H was owned by World Jet of Delaware, Inc., a company owned and operated by Don Whittington. The Colombian police and DEA Bogota seized a total of 786 kilograms of cocaine from the aircraft,” the affidavit states, continuing that Don Whittington was interviewed. “The agents advised Don Whittington that DEA has seized the $645,000.00 USC from World Jet of Delaware, Inc. because the monies were suspected to be narcotics proceeds. Don Whittington told the investigating agents that they did not need to seize the monies from his accounts because he, Wittington (sic), would have willingly turned over the monies to authorities if they had requested that he do so. Don Whittington stated to the agents that the seizure of the monies was hindering his relationship with Bank Atlantic.”

Closer to home

Information listed later in the affidavit focuses on Colorado, and indicates that surveillance observed Don Whittington’s plane arriving in Pagosa Springs, piloted by Gregory Smith, a, “pilot of interest due to intelligence that indicated he was a contract pilot who has flown loads of cocaine and marijuana from South and Central America to other points in the United States and Mexico.”

After landing in Pagosa, Don Whittington traveled toward Three Meadows Ranch while his wife and daughter, Stephanie Whittington, traveled toward The Springs, where a confidential source said she was employed.

Other information in the affidavit indicates agents tracked flights from Pagosa to Grand Junction and flights landing at other Colorado airports, with surveillance established at the airports to track the Whittingtons’ arrival.

The information also calls into question transactions linked with Albuquerque, N.M., where Don and Bill Whittington were observed landing.

“According to a DEA Albuquerque Source of Information (SOI), Don and Bill Whittington have been picked up at the Albuquerque airport by their nephews, Dale Jr. Whittington and RD Whittington. This investigation identified Dale Jr. and RD Whittington as the owners and operators of a used car dealership in Albuquerque, New Mexico, called Whittington Motorsports of Albuquerque. Initial bank record checks revealed multiple suspicious cash transactions being conducted by Whittington Motorsports of Albuquerque with multiple used car auction houses and brokers/sellers,” the document states.

Family businesses

According to the Florida Secretary of State’s office, several members of the Whittington family are involved in a plethora of family businesses, with the vast majority of those businesses registered to the same address as World Jet, Inc.

A check of those businesses by SUN staff revealed Dale and Dale L. Whittington connected to 24 enterprises with different names, Keely Whittington to 22 businesses with different names, and Nerissa Whittington to 27 business names.

Many of the businesses with which members of the Whittington family are listed as registered agents or officers overlap, with several related to The Springs listing both Nerissa and Keely Whittington.

Dale, Keely and Nerissa Whittington are not listed as being involved with World Jet, Inc., though other members of the Whittington family are.

A response

Eric Loman, attorney for Nerissa Whittington, Keely Whittington and The Springs Resort, contacted SUN staff Monday, calling the investigation and search, “shocking to them.”

Loman said Nerissa and Keely Whittington found out about the investigation on Monday, stating, “they’re perplexed,” and offered the following statement:

“Nerissa and Keely Whittington are honest members of the Pagosa Springs business community, and any allegation that they or The Springs Resort are involved in any illegal activity is absurd and unfounded.”

A message left for Bill Whittington at The Springs was not returned by press time.