The problem is the Mexican government will not cancel the plane’s registration there, meaning Rawert is unable to register the plane in the United States. Rawert said multiple requests to complete what in the past has taken him a couple of days have gone unanswered for months. He said the frustration has driven him to tears.
“I’m just trying to run my business,” Rawert said. “This has put me in a really tough spot not being able to get this.”
Last week, though, Rawert got some high-profile help when his congressman, Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), raised the issue during a congressional hearing with the Federal Aviation Administration’s second-in-command.
“A constituent of mine has gone through kind of a nightmare experience,” Webster said, asking deputy FAA Administrator Daniel K. Elwell what the government planned to do about it. The plane, Webster said, is “some kind of hostage.”
Elwell, whose other responsibilities include responding to the deadly crashes of two Boeing 737 Max aircraft and figuring out how to allow drones to access U.S. airspace, said he had been “apprised of this situation.”
“We are looking into it,” Elwell said, adding that the process was governed by international agreements and his agency was in talks with the Justice Department and the State Department. “And the intent is to get this resolved, sir.”
“So you’re committed to going to the highest level with the Mexican authorities to try to get this squared away?” Webster asked.
“Yes, sir, we’ll do everything we can under the current agreements and law to get to the bottom of this,” Elwell said.
Rawert said he did not know in advance that Webster planned to bring up his case. When someone sent him the video of the exchange, Rawert said he was “floored.”
“I’m actually humbled at the amount of attention and so grateful,” Rawert said.
On Tuesday, Rawert said he thought Webster’s intervention was showing signs of results. He said the State Department is now looking into whether he can be granted a waiver from the rules or if there is some other solution.
“They’re looking into all kinds of stuff,” he said.
The plane — a Beechcraft King Air B200 with room for half a dozen passengers and registered in Mexico under the tail number XA-RDJ — has a tangled past, according to court records.
In 2013, federal authorities alleged it had been acquired in 2005 by Francisco Antonio Colorado Cessa, a Mexican businessman who was ultimately convicted of laundering money for the Zetas in a scheme involving the purchase and breeding of racehorses. (Colorado was also convicted of conspiring to offer a $1.2 million bribe to the federal judge handling his case.)
The government seized the plane as part of its investigation into Colorado, ultimately putting it up for auction this year. Colorado received a 20-year sentence in 2016 but died in a federal prison in West Virginia last year.
Rawert said he did not know anything about the plane’s past at first but began piecing it together. It did not appear that the plane had been modified for any illicit use, Rawert said, but “don’t think I didn’t look for that billion dollars that was hidden.”
Now Rawert said he suspects the plane’s former ownership has something to do with the lengthy delay in getting the registration released by Mexico.
“I feel that way,” he said. “What other reason could there be?”
A representative of Mexico’s Directorate General of Civil Aeronautics, the country’s equivalent to the FAA, did not respond to a request for comment.
Rawert would not say how much he paid for the plane, but online listings for similar aircraft have asking prices of about $2 million.
In between fixing up the plane and getting it ready to sell, Rawert had been trying to get a response from Mexican government. One go-between said he could help if Rawert gave him power of attorney. Another person who represented himself as a lawyer first told Rawert he could get the papers for a payment of $250,000 before lowering the proposed charge to $150,000.
Rawert said he declined both offers of help, but without the ability to register the plane in the United States, Rawert said it is essentially worthless.
“It’s basically a bag of parts at this point,” he said.