A potpourri of a stranded Ukranian plane, investment in the Chicago Sun-Times, ties to casinos, lobbyists, aborted bankruptcy filing and it is all of interest (well, not all) to the Wall Street Journal.
Reporter C.D. Stelzer, while researching dealings of some investors with government connections, came across an interesting side story--a huge former military plane from the Soviet era has been stranded at U.S. airports for four years because of legal squabbles. Stelzer found out how it happened.
Kevin Flynn, an investor in the hicago Sun-Times, also olds a stake in a Soviet-era military aircraft owned by Illinois powerbroker Gary Fears.
A bankruptcy case filed in St. Louis last fall on behalf of Air Support Systems LLC shows that Flynn, a former Illinois casino operator, holds a $1.3 million stake in the corporation's only asset--a gargantuan Soviet-era military aircraft worth millions of dollars
Since securing an interest in the refueling tanker--which has been stranded for a year at a former Air Force base in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan--Flynn has made another investment. He is now part owner of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Flynn, 42, was among ten co-investors who bought the financially troubled tabloid in October, according to the Chicago Tribune. Other investors include William and Robert Parrillo, whose father was an attorney for Al Capone.
Flynn is alleged to have more recent ties to Chicago organized crime. In 2001, the Illinois Gaming Board yanked his long-dormant state license because two of his investors had ties to the Chicago mob.
At the time of the revocation, Flynn and his father, Donald Flynn, a former executive of Waste Management Inc., were seeking to transfer their gaming license from the shuttered Silver Eagle casino in East Dubuque, so they could operate the proposed Emerald Casino in Rosemont, a Chicago suburb.
Investors in the casino deal included associates of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, according to the Chicago Tribune. Donald Flynn. 70, is CEO of LKQ Corp., a Chicago-based national auto salvage company. Kevin Flynn heads Renovo Services LLC, a multi-state vehicle repossession operation.
Gary Fears, the 64-year-old owner of Air Support Services, met the Flynns in the 1990s, when they operated the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Ind. Kevin Flynn and Fears were later involved in a failed Indian casino development in California.
Fears, who is the subject of an investigative series in the online journal FOCUS/Midwest, resides in Boca Raton, Fla. But his career is rooted in Madison County, Ill. politics, where he made his bones decades ago as an operative for then-Gov. Dan Walker. Since leaving public life, he has traded on his insider status to parlay a series of controversial deals into a financial empire.
That empire began in the early 1980s, when he received millions from the state to build a hotel in Collinsville but eventually defaulted on the loan, leaving Illinois taxpayers in the lurch. A decade later, he circumvented regulators and made a fortune selling his family's hidden interest in Illinois' first riverboat casino. Both deals involved Illinois powerbroker William Cellini of Springfield, who is now under federal indictment on unrelated charges tied to the corruption trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
At this time, Fears pursued other ventures, including acquisition of the Ilyushin IL-78 aircraft, The plane, formerly owned by the Ukrainian Air Force, departed Kiev on May 23, 2006, according to flight records, and landed the next day at the North Texas Regional Airport in Sherman, Texas. Once there it sat idle for the next three years due to financing problems and squabbles among Fears' partners.
Finally, on July 17, 2009, a nine-member Ukrainian crew boarded the IL-78 with the intent of flying it to Pakistan. Alerted to the plane's departure, Victor Miller, the owner of Air 1 Flight Services, filed a restraining order, and the plane was diverted to Sawyer International Airport, in Gwinn, Mich., where it has been stranded ever since due to litigation.
The St. Louis bankruptcy case is related to a civil suit filed by Miller for unpaid maintenance expenses of more than $70,000. On October 23, a judge in Marquette County, Mich. ruled in Miller's favor. Fears countered by filing for Chapter 11 protection for Air Support Systems on October 28 in federal bankruptcy court in St. Louis.
"That stayed all of the action," says Cheryl Hill, the Marquette County prosecutor who is the legal custodian of the aircraft. Oil Dec. 17, Fears reversed his strategy and had his St. Louis bankruptcy attorney dismiss the case. In March, the Michigan court's ruling was upheld.
But Fears is still fighting to keep the plane. "Air Support Systems owns the plane," he told FOCUS/ Midwest late last year. "The whole thing was a huge misunderstanding and blown out of proportion by the press."
The abortive bankruptcy filing, however, shows that Fears' acquisition of the plane was not carried out alone. Besides Flynn, Air Support Systems' backers include Trident Response Group, a private mercenary group based in Dallas with holdings of $2.5 million; and Headlands Ltd., a shadowy company in Gibraltar, which holds a $1.1 million stake.
C.D. Stelzer is a freelance investigative reporter. His series on Gary Fears is available at http://focusmidwest.com. It was funded by a grant from the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis.