For years, Rudi Dekkers blamed his life's steep, downward spiral on two men who walked into his Florida flight school in the summer of 2000.
In the tense days after the 9/11 attacks, Dekkers said he was demonized for providing flight training to Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, the hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center. Dekkers protested his innocence widely - saying he had no idea the two were terrorists - and even penned a book titled "Guilty by Association."
Now, Dekkers, 56, is locked up in a federal prison in Houston, charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to posses with the intent to distribute cocaine and heroin. The complaint against Dekkers alleges he admitted to an undercover Homeland Security Investigations agent that he ferried drugs and cash in private aircraft in exchange for payment.
The court records show that federal agents trailing Dekkers in Houston watched him accept a blue rolling suitcase carrying 18.74 kilograms of cocaine and 860 grams of heroin, leading to his arrest Dec. 2 along with another man.
Dekker's public defender did not return a phone call for comment.
A financial spiral
His arrest marks the latest chapter in Dekker's slide from his pre-9/11 life, when he lived in a tony, Florida subdivision, drove a Dodge Viper and estimated his net worth to be about $12 million.
But Dekkers lost that wealth after federal agents swarmed his flight training school, Huffman Aviation, the day after the terrorist attacks. Dekkers said in his book that his unfair association with the attacks resulted in death threats and a downward financial spiral that included bankruptcy and eventually led to the disintegration of his 20-year marriage.
Recent media reports quoted Dekkers as saying he had regained some optimism and remarried, and had a daughter with his new wife.
But Dekkers now finds himself facing potentially stiff prison time.
According to the criminal complaint, Homeland Security Investigations agents were investigating an international drug trafficking organization allegedly led by another man, identified in court records as 36-year-old Arturo Astorquiza, when they came across Dekkers.
After being introduced to the undercover agent on Oct. 31, Dekkers allegedly said "he was involved in narcotics transportation via private aircraft and that he has flown narcotics and U.S. currency previously without any problems," according to the criminal complaint in the case.
Astorquiza was arrested Nov. 5 in the parking lot of his Houston apartment complex by Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agents, charged with firearms smuggling in connection with the transfer of an AK-47 to an illegal immigrant, court records show.
After Astorquiza's arrest, Dekkers allegedly called the undercover agent and said he'd still be willing to work with him to smuggle drugs, according to the complaint. On Nov. 29, Dekkers called the agent and said he would be in Houston picking up drugs, the complaint alleged.
The next day, Dekkers met with the agent and said he planned to make another flight, and would be paid $9,000 for transporting six kilograms of cocaine, according to the complaint.
Agents watched Dekkers as he visited flight schools in Cypress and Spring and as he met with two men at Memorial City Mall.
At 12:20 p.m. Dec. 2, Dekkers met one of the same men, Rogelio Martinez-Flores, in the parking lot of a Cypress flight school and accepted a blue, rolling suitcase, the complaint states. The agents closed in on Dekkers and Martinez-Flores, who also was arrested. Inside the blue suitcase, the agents found cocaine and heroin.
A bad vibe
Julia Hall, who works as a dispatcher at one of the Houston-area flight schools Dekkers visited, said she quickly got a bad vibe from Dekkers. "I never liked him. Within a very short amount of time, he told me who he was. Do you want the guy who trained the 911 terrorists in your presence?"
After his arrest, a judge ordered Dekkers to remain in custody pending trial, noting that he is a citizen of the Netherlands without legal status in the U.S. No one answered the door at the two-story, suburban Montgomery County home linked to Dekkers through a public records search. The home had a "for lease" sign on the front lawn.
In an interview with Fox 26 in Houston marking the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Dekkers told the reporter he had moved to Texas to nourish his new career as a keynote speaker.
When asked if he would ever "outrun the shadow" of 9/11, Dekkers has a quick reply: "Yeah. When I die."
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