In 1976, as part of Learjet's president Harry Combs grand scheme to move Learjet from Wichita to Tucson, the entire marketing department relocated to Tucson. At least 35 out of the 36 marketing employees did. I found excuses to stay in Wichita most of the time.
One morning in July of 1980, four Latins arrived in a Learjet 35 and said they wanted to buy two more 35's and a 55. God is smiling on Learjet today. I grabbed some purchase orders from my desk and we went to the conference room.
Their delegation was led by Ramon Diaz. He lived in Miami and spoke the best English. When the other three were introduced, they showed me their Nicaraguan passports, which was the first time a prospect ever did that.
We went through the options and spec'd out the two 35's and a 55. I had the P.O.s typed and we both signed them. Diaz told me the wire transfer for the deposits would be arranged within the next couple of weeks. We shook hands and the delegation left for Minneapolis to buy a used 727 from Northwest Airlines.
The weeks past and the deposit never showed up. I would call Diaz on a fairly regular basis to see when the wire transfer would be made. After each call I became less and less confident that any funds would be forthcoming.
On September 4, 1980 my friendly CIA contact from Kansas City stopped by for a routine interview to see what is new. During a previous visit he was briefed on the Nicaraguan purchase and now he mentions the FBI has arrest warrants for three of the July visitors.
I went to work the following morning and after putting out a few fires, called Diaz in Miami, ostensibly to ask about the deposit. I got the usual run around from him so I asked him if he was talking directly to the other three. He said yes, as a matter of fact that morning in Ft. Lauderdale. I asked if they were there with the airplane and he replied, "yes."
As the Learjet telephone records reflect, my conversation with Diaz on my extension 2488 to area code 305 lasted 15.6 minutes with the call terminated at 0952.
At 0955 on extension 2489, I placed a call to the Kansas City CIA office that lasted one minute. The resident agent was in the field.
At 0957 on extension 2489, I placed a call to Chip Chisolm who worked for the CIA in Langley, Virginia. Chip worked in security for the CIA and unlike most of their compartmentalized employees, Chip's role put him in touch with the broader scope of the Agency. It took 13.6 minutes to brief him on this somewhat bizarre situation but I had no intention of hanging up until he assured me he would call the FBI.
By the time the FBI in Miami could react, the Nicaraguans had departed the Fort Lauderdale airport but this day the gods were smiling on the FBI. A fuel pump failed on the Learjet and the aircraft returned to the airport and into the hands of the waiting FBI.
As the September 6, issue of the Miami Herald reported, "3 Cuban Nationals Suspected of Spying, Arrested by the FBI." Though the charges were eventually dropped, the FBI seized the airplane. It was kept at Homestead AFB for several years and then sold at auction or given to another government agency.