The Taxi Driver

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

"I am still waiting for the money to arrive from New York; they say for sure today," wrote Schorling to Probert on March 4, 1991. A month later, Schorling faxed Probert saying the money holdup was "no big deal" and would soon sort itself out.

It didn't.

Probert never saw his money again. He says he held out hope of a settlement for so long that the statute of limitations ran out, and Schorling disappeared into an almost anonymous cab in Orange County.

Probert never sued, but others did. Court records in Orange County and Los Angeles suggest Schorling was involved in similar incidents in the early 1990s.

In 1993, a Panamanian company called Grape Lavender, which was also involved in the helicopter deal that stung Probert, sued Schorling in Orange County. The judge awarded Grape Lavender $382,800 with interest. Records show the company never received a dime.

Simultaneously, an old Schorling associate named Valentin Flores brought a similar lawsuit in Los Angeles. Flores didn't respond to the Weekly's requests for an interview, but court records show that in early 1991, the Honduran native authorized Schorling to build him a helicopter. Schorling had one of his old associates, Lynn Carlson, build the helicopter in Long Beach.

But when the job was done, instead of delivering the bird, Schorling got Flores to agree to "lease" the helicopter to Cardiff Technology Corp. out in Las Vegas for some kind of secret operations.

It was bogus—most notably because Cardiff was a paper company set up by Schorling in 1990. California secretary of state's office records suggest the name Cardiff likely came from the "Las Vegas" company's address: 19 Cardiff in Laguna Niguel.

Court records show that throughout 1991 and 1992, Schorling and Flores faxed each other furiously—mostly concerning Schorling's bounced checks to Flores. Schorling even drafted faxes—ostensibly between himself and Cardiff—in which he scolded the company for failure to pay Flores on time.

In fact, the helicopter never left Long Beach. One day, according to Carlson's declaration, Schorling told Carlson that Flores didn't want the helicopter anymore and had in fact sold it to Schorling. According to Carlson, Schorling even produced the bill of sale. Carlson took the helicopter and placed ads attempting to sell it.

But Flores insisted he never sold Schorling the helicopter. As Flores' expert testified in court, Schorling very likely forged Flores' signature on a bogus bill of sale—a charge Schorling would only respond to by insisting he had just been the middleman. "I was just a broker acting on behalf of Mr. Flores," he said when asked about the bill of sale. "Carlson and Flores had their own thing going."

When contacted by the Weekly, Carlson was reluctant to talk about the case. But he did confirm that when all was said and done, Schorling cheated Flores. "The ad selling the helicopter had been running for a few weeks when Flores called me, asking why we were selling his helicopter," Carlson said. "Schorling had forged Flores' signature on the bill of sale and then kept the money."

When Flores finally got into Carlson's shop to examine his helicopter in May 1993, he found it stripped of its engine, rotor and electronics.

"Schorling is a thief," wrote Flores' attorney in his declaration. "[H]is title to the helicopter is 'void,' not merely 'voidable.'"

The court agreed and awarded Flores $675,000 with interest. Again, records show Schorling has never paid.

Schorling didn't respond to either lawsuit, even though he was facing allegations of forgery and embezzlement. No criminal charges against Schorling have ever been filed.

"I was never served in any of the cases," he told the Weekly. "The whole thing was over and done with before I knew about it."

"He just went underground," said Sprouse, the mechanic who once did business with Schorling's company Frontier Pacific. "For a long time, we thought he was dead. Maybe he was dead from a deal that went bad, or maybe he was being held ransom by someone he scammed—we didn't know. He just did these deals and then disappeared."

Probert says he put ads in newspapers asking for "anyone trying to find or knowing the wherabout's [sic] of Rick Schorling" to call him. But he says many of the responses were from individuals saying Schorling had scammed them, too.

Schorling says he became a cab driver in 1991. His résumé says roughly the same.

It's difficult to reconcile this date with known facts. Court records contain copious Frontier International faxes Schorling sent to Flores throughout 1991, not ending until September 1992. They show him carrying out considerable helicopter brokering, often involving lengthy trips to Panama and Guatemala.

In any case, Schorling reappeared in the public spotlight in 1996, when he had worked his way up to general manager of what is now called A Taxi. Three years later, Schorling and A Taxi lobbyist Lyle Overby quit and formed their own company, American Taxi—a company that bills itself as "the choice for most city council members."

By the time American's contract came up for renewal, Probert had found Schorling. Appearing at a contentious March 2000 county Board of Supervisors meeting concerning the taxi contract at John Wayne, Probert waved the bogus check Schorling wrote him and told the board that Schorling was a thief and an embezzler. He told them to investigate Schorling.

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