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

Staff Writer

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.

randi@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on November 21, 2013.
  • Haha

    Well, it’s a good start…now if the Sun could connect the pies and dirty fingers of the Mayor and his cohorts. I’d rather be a bit poorer than associated with this garbage. Heathens, I say, HEATHENS!

    • jblack

      Pies, heathens and cohorts? The Mayor works for no pay as a volunteer! What do you do to help this town?!

      • Haha

        That’s hilarious. I’ll start with the pot issue. It’s well known and documented that the voters want the tax income here. Do a little digging and figure out who is responsible and why it hasn’t happened; then report back to me. I would sure love a safe ride on our back roads, but I have to stare at the pavement so I don’t lose a wheel. TAX MONEY FIXES THINGS. I did my due diligence and I am not all that thrilled about it. Please do yours and, collectively, we’ll make Pagosa Springs the place that the majority of us want. (Also look into the sham practices of low income housing in town here, it all leads back to your grubby unpaid mayor ;)

        • jblack

          The only grubby person I see is you. Let me guess you have only lived here a year or so… Are your back roads unsafe in the county or town? Do you realize the difference? I doubt it, due diligence… I doubt it. Johnny come lately? For sure. I bet you aren’t for the taxes Walmart would bring either. Haha!!

          • Haha

            I will just sit here with a stick and poke the hole where you cognitive function should be ;) Thanks for not answering my question or addressing the issue, typical mayor-supporting Pagosan. Sad.

  • Steve Sullivan

    “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.”
    Sounds like the allegations are pretty well founded to me… they might want to read them again. These two are either the most niave or worst business women in the world to not know what was going on. As far as Bill goes, he is probably the most narcissistic person I have ever met and the fact that he would place both of his own daughters in this position regardless of whether it was on their own accord or not only proves this. The town “leadership” has been placating this “organization” at great expense to the community and this only makes them look more like the rubes that they are….not that they needed any help with that.

  • PagosaFriend

    interesting article – as last time I was at the Springs a local gentleman we were speaking to was talking about this family and how they were always flying here, there and yonder and alot of speculation about what he really did….but I can tell you one thing the money that was wired and put into the Springs account certainly didn’t go towards the upkeep and maintenance of the Resort and spa/springs area as it has steadlily gone downhill and many of the pools are in desparate need of repair/maintenance….very sad…

  • reality

    No wonder I feel elated after a visit to the steamy springs. It has to be the water.

  • reality

    Is one of those 72 businesses the Whittingtons own the Pagosa Sun? Seeing as Keely is an employee apparently with a byline.

  • Chris Gerlach

    Please keep the discussion civil and focused on the serious matter of this story. I appreciate concerns but will wait for facts to continue to emerge. I certainly hope that these allegations are not proven, if they are, we have been seriously harmed by abuse and exploitation of our town, a place we care about deeply and value and respect. I will trust all concerned to do their best to help resolve this matter.

  • schadenfreude

    and Karma comes around. This family is one of the reasons Pagosa is a cesspool. Talk to the many vendors they screwed building the resort.

  • sd

    The Whittington family is a truely strong family with amazing business ethics. Media is disqusting. Without The Springs Resort, Pagosa Springs economy will colapse. Every small business owner in PS should be on their knees thanking the Whittington family for what they do for Pagosa Springs.
    Let’s not be childish and let’s respect the privacy of this family while they deal with these unfounded accusations.
    We all love the Sprngs Resort and NOTHING will change that.

    • Haha

      Every mafia and/or illegal profiteering activity helps the local economy. The thing is though, it’s still filthy illegal activity that hurts someone, somewhere. As long as you don’t see that hurt, it’s fine to profit from it elsewhere (ALLEGEDLY) right? To call those accusations unfounded is, well, did you actually read the DEA Affidavit? If not, go back and do so. If that’s all circumstantial, then I may unwittingly be the Easter Bunny. This has nothing to do with your enjoyment of sitting in warm water, by the way. The Springs Resort is a resort, not a person. To be honest, you should be angry that the Springs Resort is so run-down and ignored, given the 10 million dollars in Papa Bill’s bank account (and that’s just what he isn’t hiding). These comments are sadly hilarious, but knowing you could be my neighbor is a bit scary.

  • SoakandSpaPagosa

    As an employee of The Springs Resort, I too am highly disgusted by the media.
    The Whittington Family are truly amazing to work for. Bill Whittington is a strong Christian man with a giant heart. We all have a past don’t we? Imagine if you were judged by your past?
    Nerissa and Keely are strong, smart and involved business women and I can promise you, they would never allow any illegal activities to go on at THEIR RESORT.
    Remember, we employee up to 120 people here, at The Springs Resort. Pagosa Springs is deeply blessed to be a Resort town and we all benefit off of the beautiful Resort & Spa The Whittington Family own.

    • Ann M. Adam

      Nobody ever said they were not smart. It is just a shame how they use it. They were also very well like personalities in racing back in the 80s. Obviously they had a big stake waiting when they got out . . .

    • Jake

      Why are you disgusted by the media? Are they supposed to ignore a newsworthy event that seemingly has plenty of merit? May I remind you that jail is full of Christians? And you promise nothing fishy is going on? You’re simply not in the know unless your last name is the same as theirs. Ted Haggart was a nice guy, too.

    • ArthurFrayne

      It must suck to find out you work for a drug cartel, but that doesn’t change the facts. People don’t like to believe that they could have been deceived so they opt to chose not to believe the truth. The best way to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes is to pretend you are a good Christian.

  • reality

    Duh.Heads of cartels are Catholics with alters all over and have big hearts too.Those hearts are hanging on bridge overpasses.Lately calling yourself Christian or Muslim or Scientologist ain,t a good thing.

  • Old Pagosan

    Look Bill’s name and his Brother’s name up on Wikipedia. They both have been arrested for this before. This is not the first time folks!

  • Just The Facts Ma’am

    Hang ‘em high…grab all the rope in Texas! LOL!

  • leadfoot

    Anyone who was around racing back in the ’80’s know about Bill and Don. They used to race very expensive Porsche 935’s. Also, fly clipped wing P-51 Mustangs and Bearcats at the air races in Reno (even more expensive). There was another guy, John Paul who raced Porsche 935’s. He was a friend of the Whittington’s and J.P. was sent to prison for life for the murder of an informant. The informant was spilling the beans on Paul who ran the largest mary-jane distributorship in the south. The story going around racing circles back then was…Where the Whittington’s got their money (because nobody knew). The (tongue-in-cheek) answer always was…”Crop dusting for John Paul”. You idiots who are working drones at the resorts are drinking too much of the kool-aid and should go back and READ that back then, AFTER THEY PLEADED GUILTY —Bill got 15 years and Don got 18 months for DEALING DRUGS! And as they say,…It’s hard to change a zebra’s stripes. Look for new owners of the resort to come on board as the Whittingtons’ go back to the cross-bar hotel.

    • Ann M. Adam

      And look for another slap on the hands plea bargain w/relatives keeping many assets, inclu. foreign bank accounts. Weren’t they also involved in Off Shore racing? Should ask The Weissmann’s about that.

  • Kemo Sabee

    This has nothing to do with religion, and aren’t you as a ‘Christian’ supposed to love your neighbor as yourself?

  • L. Sherman

    It is a damn shame we had to be explioted by this criminal family. To try and plead that the did not what was going on is an insult to the whole community.

  • Ray Merlo

    WoW,Greedy little Buggers.