SANTA ROSA, Calif. - Drugs and money often go hand-in-hand in a Hollywood script. But this time, the location is the Bay Area. And it's all part of an alleged scheme to fly a payload of drugs from California to a place thousands of miles away.
The alleged plan was to buy a small plane in Santa Rosa, strip the seats, stuff it with meth, and somehow fly it to Hawaii before getting to Australia. That's 2,480 miles on the first leg. And then, to get to Melbourne, it would have been 5,343 miles more.
The owners of the business had no idea their Australian customer, who they say could barely start the engine much less take off and land unassisted, allegedly planned to fly across the ocean with a payload of drugs.
Robert Nicolas with Propjet Aviation showed ABC7 the type of plane that "Hugh," also known as John Gorman, allegedly planned to fly home to his native Australia with $200 million worth of meth on board.
"In 6,000 hours of flying this model airplane, he was undoubtedly the worst pilot I've ever flown with," said Nicolas.
He's a plane broker based at the Sonoma County Airport. He sold Gorman a Cesnna 210 for $630,000 in the spring.
Nicolas says he had no idea Gorman was allegedly trying to smuggle more than 500 pounds of methamphetamine across the Pacific. That is, until Sonoma County Sheriff's officials said the DEA found the drugs during a raid of a Windsor storage facility in June.
"It's unprecedented," said Sgt. Spencer Crum, who said he can't comment on the investigation since the Australian federal police are the lead agency. But Crum noted the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office is thrilled to get the drugs off their streets.
"I've been in law enforcement for 27 years and I've never seen a 560 pound meth bust, ever," he said.
Nicolas adds, "He's the last person in the world that I would think would be involved in drugs."
According to Nicolas, he and his instructors spent hours flying with Gorman and thought the 72-year-old man, who claimed to be an engineer, was just interested in flying their planes.
But, even if he had been an accomplished pilot, his alleged scheme to fly the drugs from Santa Rosa to Hawaii and then onto Australia was inconceivable.
"We didn't know he was going to install an extra 500 to 600 pounds worth of cargo. If he would have done that with the fuel load and taken off here, he never would have left the airport," said Nicolas. "The plane would have crashed upon takeoff."
But Gorman never made it back to the Bay Area to pick up his plane. Instead, he was arrested at the Melbourne Airport.
The stockpile of drugs is worth more than $200 million if sold on the Australian black market.