The Taxi Driver

Military sales to Latin American dictators, CIA contacts, and the strange odyssey of OC cabby Richard Schorling

Schorling's résumé—on file with the county—offers only a tantalizing glimpse of this remarkable journey. Speaking of himself in the third person, Schorling wrote, "Prior to a career change that brought him to the taxi industry, Mr. Schorling gained experience in fleet management when he ran a large helicopter company that supplied the military. In his work serving the military, Mr. Schorling learned the critical importance of pilot and equipment safety, topnotch maintenance, employee training, and clean and well-maintained machinery."

John Wayne Airport director Alan Murphy, who in March 2000 recommended to the county Board of Supervisors that Schorling's company get the big airport contract, refused to comment for this story, saying through his spokesperson that current, unrelated litigation over the contract precluded any statement.

Robert with his $325,000 bounced
check from Shorling
Photo by Jack Gould
"I was indoctrinated in aviation since the very beginning," Schorling told the Weekly. "My father was senior vice president of Continental Airlines for 33 years. Through a family friend, I started flying for Continental Air Services, a small airline that delivered aircraft and helicopters to Air America."

Air America was a CIA-front airline, alleged to have carried out the agency's work in the world's trouble spots. Schorling says he worked a few years in the late 1960s ferrying aircraft to places like Vientiane, Laos. "I was a co-pilot and a ferry pilot, just building up my flight time," he said. "It was at the same time I was a deputy sheriff in Lakewood, flying there as well."

By the early 1970s, Schorling quit both jobs and went to work at Long Beach Airport as a mechanic. Eventually, he got involved with aircraft brokering, saying his past with Continental Air Services and Air America provided a "natural transition" to the business of buying and selling. In 1976, Schorling started his own Long Beach-based aircraft-brokering company called Frontier International.

It was about this time that Schorling met Probert.

"I've known Rick Schorling for 25, 30 years," said Probert, who still keeps an office at the Long Beach Airport. "Back then, we were just airport bums, when Rick worked in an engine-overhaul shop."

Since then, Schorling has been busy. The California secretary of state's office shows that between 1976 and 1990, Schorling created a lot of companies: Frontier Pacific Aircraft Industries, Frontier Pacific International, Schorling Inc., Frontier International, La Jolla Aviation International, Cardiff Technology Corp. and Opportunidades. Most of them have addresses in the Long Beach and Signal Hill area.

The same records show that virtually all these companies went bankrupt. But regardless of the name, Schorling's business was always the same: selling aircraft —mostly helicopters.

"Rick ended up selling helicopters in Central America," said Probert. "Most were going into Panama, Guatemala and Mexico. They were used onboard tuna boats to fly out and scout the tuna schools. And he was getting filthy rich doing this."

Declarations and copies of faxes included in court records suggest Schorling spent much of the 1980s and early 1990s winging his way throughout Central America, often staying in some of the most luxurious hotels in Panama and Guatemala.

Schorling attributes his success to his Air America experience. But former associates and friends say it wasn't an accident that Schorling was so successful in those years.

"Rick Schorling is a fast talker, very elegant, and can speak several different languages," said Bob Sprouse, an engine mechanic who met Schorling in the late 1970s and today runs his own aircraft-salvage business at Long Beach Airport. "He's a good-looking guy and will charm the pants right off you."

Throughout the 1980s, Schorling played the power game with some of Latin America's most dangerous personalities. "[Former contra rebel leader] Eden Pastora and I have been very good friends for many years," Schorling said. That friendship extends back to a period when Pastora was the on-again, off-again friend of the Reagan-era CIA in its war to topple the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua. A Dec. 12, 1985, UPI story details a Southern California fund-raising trip by Pastora. Accompanying Pastora, the story reported, was "Rick Schorling, a Los Angeles businessman who has been friends with the guerrilla leader since Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza was overthrown in 1979." UPI further identified Schorling as someone "who sells helicopters and parts in Latin America."

"I've tried to help [Pastora] as much as I can and convince him to make a visit up here," Schorling told UPI. "He's never been able to get his message across as to what is really going on in Nicaragua."

What was really going on in Nicaragua, of course, was that the Reagan administration was using the best-equipped army in Latin American history to kill a socialist government in its cradle. Pastora's group was part of that effort. A few years later, most of this would be revealed as an unconstitutional attempt by the Reagan administration to circumvent a congressional ban on U.S. participation in the not-so-secret war. We've come to call it the Iran-contra scandal.

But Schorling seemed closer to Panamanian dictator Noriega, who achieved infamy throughout Latin America for his contempt for human rights, close CIA ties and lucrative international drug trade.

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