Feds lend Tesla $465 million to build electric car

June 24, 2009

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We could see full scale production models in showrooms by 2011…
– FlashAddict

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By Chuck Squatriglia

(WIRED) — The Obama Administration will lend Tesla Motors $465 million to build an electric sedan and the battery packs needed to propel it. It’s one of three loans totaling almost $8 billion that the Department of Energy awarded Tuesday to spur the development of fuel-efficient vehicles.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk behind the wheel of a Model S electric car in March.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk behind the wheel of a Model S electric car in March.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced that the Department of Energy is also lending $5.9 billion to Ford to retool factories in five states. Nissan will receive $1.6 billion to refurbish a factory in Tennessee to produce electric cars.

The loans are the first awarded under the $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program to help automakers offset the cost of retooling to build eco-friendlier cars that are at least 25 percent more fuel-efficient than 2005 models.

“We have a historic opportunity to help ensure that the next generation of fuel-efficient cars and trucks are made in America,” the president said in a statement. “These loans — and the additional support we will provide through the Section 136 programs — will create good jobs and help the auto industry to meet and even exceed the tough fuel-economy standards we’ve set while helping retain our competitive edge in the world market.”

The Obama Administration announced last month that it is raising fuel-efficiency standards from the current average of 27.5 miles per gallon to 35 miles per gallon by 2016. Chu said the loans will help automakers achieve that goal.

“The American innovation machine, when it revs up, is the greatest in the world,” he said during a press conference at Ford’s headquarters in Detroit, according to the Detroit News. “Today, we’re putting that engine into gear.”

Tesla said its share of the pie will help get the Model S sedan (pictured) on the road by the end of 2011.

“We are honored to receive one of the first loan awards in this program,” company CEO Elon Musk said. “I’m confident we’ll put the money to very productive use. We look forward to producing the Model S.”

Tesla has long been counting on the loan to help it build the sedan it unveiled in March and had been in discussions with the agency for about nine months. It had sought $350 million to retool a factory to build the car and $100 million to manufacture battery packs and drivetrain components. Those packs and components will be used in vehicles built by Tesla and other automakers  most notably Daimler, which recently bought nearly 10 percent of Tesla to jump-start development of the Smart EV.

Musk said the money will be disbursed on a monthly basis. Repayment will commence within one year of the start of Model S production and the loan must be repaid by 2022.

“There are incentives for early repayment,” he said, without elaborating, “and I suspect we will have repaid the loan well before 2022.”

There’s still no word on where the factories will be located, but Musk said they most likely will be in California. An announcement could come as early as next month, he said. As for the Model S, Musk said it could share components with Mercedes sedans now that Daimler has a stake in Tesla.

“There’s a possibility the car will use a Mercedes-derived suspension and other components such as safety systems, crash structures, interior fit and finish,” he said. “There are a number of areas where Daimler can be quite helpful.”

Musk said Daimler’s investment in Tesla coupled with the federal loan and revenue from the Roadster leaves the company “in pretty good shape” financially. Tesla has gotten the cost of goods for the Roadster the materials and labor cost to build the car down to about $80,000 and the company expects to be profitable in July, he said. The company has delivered more than 500 Roadsters and received more than 1,200 refundable deposits at $5,000 apiece for the Model S.

Ford was the big winner, walking away with a promise of $5.9 billion in loans through 2011. The automaker says it will use the money to retool 11 factories in five states to build more-efficient gasoline engines and electric vehicles. It also will use the money to convert two truck factories to automobile production. Ford has said it will have an EV by 2011, and it plans to spend $14 billion on advanced technology during the next seven years. It expects to begin drawing on the government loan within 35 days.

“This is the kind of partnership that will help American manufacturing not just survive, but thrive,” company president Alan Mulally said after Chu announced the loans at Ford’s headquarters in Detroit, according to the Detroit Free Press. “Ford intends to be the fuel-economy leader.”

Nissan is charging ahead with plans to put an electric car in showrooms next year. Although the first cars will be built in Japan, Nissan says it will use the $1.6 billion loan to retool a factory in Smyrna, Tennessee, to take over production by 2012. Construction on the factory is slated to begin by the end of the year. Nissan says the factory will employ 1,300 people and build 50,000 to 100,000 cars at full production.

“This loan is an investment in America,” Dominique Thormann, a senior vice president at Nissan North America, said in a statement. “It will help us put high-quality, affordable zero-emissions vehicles on our roads. This project will expand our Smyrna plant, and that’s great economic news.”

Chu said the Obama Administration hopes to disburse the loans quickly.

More than 100 companies ranging from General Motors to Aptera Motors are seeking funding through the program. The government is expected to announce recipients for the remainder of the $25 billion program next year. The DOE did not disclose the terms of the loans.

http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/06/23/tesla.electric.cars/index.html

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The Best of FAIL Blog

June 22, 2009

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For your viewing pleasure, I present to you the very BEST of the WORST of FAIL Blog…
– FlashAddict

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Will you take my temperature?

Will you take my temperature?

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This made me laugh for over 10 minutes last night…

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I want to party with this girl…

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I want this guy to be my best man when I get married…

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This guy got PWND…

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http://failblog.org/


Total Eclipse of the Heart: Literal Video Version

June 19, 2009

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If you ever wondered what the deeper meaning behind music videos were…
– FlashAddict

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Jury rules against Minn. mom in download case

June 18, 2009

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A mother is now facing financial ruin over 24 songs on Kazaa…
– FlashAddict

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Retrial with same verdict; she owes recording companies $1.92 million

MINNEAPOLIS – A replay of the nation’s only file-sharing case to go to trial has ended with the same result, finding a Minnesota woman to have violated music copyrights and ordering her to pay hefty damages to the recording industry.

A federal jury ruled Thursday that Jammie Thomas-Rasset willfully violated the copyrights on 24 songs, and awarded recording companies $1.92 million, or $80,000 per song.

Thomas-Rasset’s second trial actually turned out worse for her. When a different federal jury heard her case in 2007, it hit Thomas-Rasset with a $222,000 judgment.

The new trial was ordered after the judge in the case decided he had erred in giving jury instructions.

Thomas-Rasset sat glumly with her chin in hand as she heard the jury’s finding of willful infringement, which increased the potential penalty. She raised her eyebrows in surprise when the jury’s penalty of $80,000 per song was read.

Outside the courtroom, she was resigned.

“There’s no way they’re ever going to get that,” said Thomas-Rasset, a 32-year-old mother of four from the central Minnesota city of Brainerd. “I’m a mom, limited means, so I’m not going to worry about it now.”

Her attorney, Kiwi Camara, said he was surprised by the size of the judgment. He said it suggested that jurors didn’t believe Thomas-Rasset’s denials of illegal file-sharing, and that they were angry with her.

Camara said he and his client hadn’t decided whether to appeal or pursue the Recording Industry Association of America’s settlement overtures.

Cara Duckworth, a spokeswoman for the RIAA, said the industry remains willing to settle but she refused to name a figure.

In closing arguments earlier Thursday, attorneys for both sides disputed what the evidence showed.

An attorney for the recording industry, Tim Reynolds, said the “greater weight of the evidence” showed that Thomas-Rasset was responsible for the illegal file-sharing that took place on her computer. He urged jurors to hold her accountable to deter others from a practice he said has significantly harmed the people who bring music to everyone.

Defense attorney Joe Sibley said the music companies failed to prove allegations that Thomas-Rasset gave away songs by Gloria Estefan, Sheryl Crow, Green Day, Journey and others.

“Only Jammie Thomas’s computer was linked to illegal file-sharing on Kazaa,” Sibley said. “They couldn’t put a face behind the computer.”

Sibley urged jurors not to ruin Thomas-Rasset’s life with a debt she could never pay. Under federal law, the jury could have awarded up to $150,000 per song.

U.S. District Judge Michael Davis, who heard the first lawsuit in 2007, ordered up a new trial after deciding he had erred in instructions to jurors.

For the retrial, Davis instructed the jurors that in order to find Thomas-Rasset infringed any copyrights, they had to determine that someone actually downloaded the songs. He said distribution needed to occur, though he didn’t explicitly define distribution. Before, Davis said simply making the songs available on the Kazaa file-sharing network was enough.

This case was the only one of more than 30,000 similar lawsuits to make it all the way to trial. The vast majority of people targeted by the music industry had settled for about $3,500 each. The recording industry has said it stopped filing such lawsuits last August and is instead now working with Internet service providers to fight the worst offenders.

In testimony this week, Thomas-Rasset denied she shared any songs. On Wednesday, the self-described “huge music fan” raised the possibility for the first time in the long-running case that her children or ex-husband might have done it. The defense did not provide any evidence, though, that any of them had shared the files.

The recording companies accused Thomas-Rasset of offering 1,700 songs on Kazaa as of February 2005, before the company became a legal music subscription service following a settlement with entertainment companies. For simplicity’s sake the music industry tried to prove only 24 infringements.

Reynolds argued Thursday that the evidence clearly pointed to Thomas-Rasset as the person who made the songs available on Kazaa under the screen name “tereastarr.” It’s the same nickname she acknowledged having used for years for her e-mail and several other computer accounts, including her MySpace page.

Reynolds said the copyright security company MediaSentry traced the files offered by “tereastarr” on Kazaa to Thomas-Rasset’s Internet Protocol address — the online equivalent of a street address — and to her modem.

He said MediaSentry downloaded a sample of them from the shared directory on her computer. That’s an important point, given Davis’ new instructions to jurors.

Although the plaintiffs weren’t able to prove that anyone but MediaSentry downloaded songs off her computer because Kazaa kept no such records, Reynolds told the jury it’s only logical that many users had downloaded songs offered through her computer because that’s what Kazaa was there for.

Sibley argued it would have made no sense for Thomas-Rasset to use the name “tereastarr” to do anything illegal, given that she had used it widely for several years.

He also portrayed the defendant as one of the few people brave enough to stand up to the recording industry, and he warned jurors that they could also find themselves accused on the basis of weak evidence if their computers are ever linked to illegal file-sharing.

“They are going to come at you like they came at ’tereastarr,”’ he said.

Steve Marks, executive vice president and general counsel of the Recording Industry Association of America, estimated earlier this week that only a few hundred of the lawsuits remain unresolved and that fewer than 10 defendants were actively fighting them.

The companies that sued Thomas-Rasset are subsidiaries of all four major recording companies, Warner Music Group Corp., Vivendi SA’s Universal Music Group, EMI Group PLC and Sony Corp.’s Sony Music Entertainment.

The recording industry has blamed online piracy for declines in music sales, although other factors include the rise of legal music sales online, which emphasize buying individual tracks rather than full albums.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31432024/ns/business-local_business/


Train vs Cow

June 10, 2009

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Quite possibly the funniest video I have ever seen.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you, “Train vs Cow”
– FlashAddict

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China defends screening software

June 9, 2009

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The Great Firewall of China just got an upgrade…
– FlashAddict

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By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

China has defended the use of new screening software that has to be installed on all computers.

Foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said the software would filter out pornographic or violent material.

Critics have complained that it could also be used to stop Chinese internet users searching for politically sensitive information.

But Mr Qin, speaking at a regular press briefing, said China promoted the healthy development of the internet.

All computers sold in China – even those that are imported – will have to be pre-installed with the “Green Dam Youth Escort” software.

‘Poisoned minds’

The news came in a directive from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, and the new regulations will come into force on 1 July.

The directive says the newest version of the software has to be pre-installed on Chinese-made computers before they leave the factory.

Imported computers must contain the software before they are sold.

The aim is to build a healthy and harmonious online environment that does not poison young people’s minds, according to the directive.

Mr Qin defended the move on Tuesday: “The purpose of this is to effectively manage harmful material for the public and prevent it from being spread,” he said.

“The Chinese government pushes forward the healthy development of the internet. But it lawfully manages the internet,” he added.

The Chinese government regularly restricts access to certain internet sites and information it deems sensitive.

The BBC’s Chinese language website and video sharing website Youtube are currently inaccessible in Beijing.

Critics fear this new software could be used by the government to enhance its internet censorship system, known as the Great Firewall of China.

But a spokesman for one of the companies that developed the software, Jinhui Computer System Engineering, rejected this accusation.

“It’s a sheer commercial activity, having nothing to do with the government,” Zhang Chenmin, the company’s general manager, told the state-approved Global Times newspaper.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8091044.stm


The Lear Jet repo man

June 6, 2009

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Pretty wild story I came across today…
– FlashAddict

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Business has never been better for the fearless pilot who takes back millionaires’ expensive toys.

By Marc Weingarten

June 6, 2009 | It was snowing hard when the bank called Nick Popovich. They needed to grab a Gulfstream in South Carolina now. Not tomorrow. Tonight.

All commercial and private planes were grounded, but Nick Popovich wasn’t one to turn down a job. So he waited for the storm to clear long enough to charter a Hawker jet from Chicago into South Carolina. There was just one detail: No one had told Popovich about the heavily armed white supremacist militia that would be guarding the aircraft when he arrived.

But then again, no one had told the militia about Popovich, a brawny and intimidating man who has been jailed and shot at and has faced down more angry men than a prison warden. When Popovich and two of his colleagues arrived that evening at a South Carolina airfield, they were met by a bunch of nasty-looking thugs with cocked shotguns. “They had someone in the parking lot with binoculars,” Popovich says, recalling the incident. “When we went to grab the plane, one of them came out with his weapon drawn and tells us we better get out of there.” Undeterred, Popovich continued toward the plane until he felt a gun resting on his temple.

“You move another inch and I’ll blow your fucking head off,” the gravel-and-nicotine voice told Popovich.

“Well, you better go ahead and shoot, ’cause I’m grabbing that plane.”

A shot was discharged in the air.

The gravel-and-nicotine voice again. “I’m not kidding.”

“Then do it already.”

Popovich’s first rule of firearms is pretty simple: The man who tells you he’s going to shoot you will not shoot you. So without so much as looking back, he got on the plane and flew it right to Chicago. “My job is to grab that plane,” Popovich says. “And if you haven’t paid for it, then it’s mine. And I don’t like to lose.”

Nick Popovich is a repo man, but not the kind that spirits away Hyundais from suburban driveways. Popovich is a super repo man, one of a handful of specialists who get the call when a bank wants back its Gulfstream II jet from, say, a small army of neo-Nazi freaks.

For the past three decades, Popovich has been one of a secret tribe of big game hunters who specialize in stealing jets from the jungle hideouts of corrupt landowners in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil and swiping go-fast boats from Wall Street titans in Miami and East Hampton. Super repos have been known to hire swat teams, hijack supertankers and fly off with eastern bloc military helicopters. For a cut of the overall value, they’ll repossess anything.

But Popovich is the most renowned of them all — the Ernest Hemingway of super repo men. “Nick is the best of the best,” says Doug Lipke, head of the bankruptcy group for the law firm Vedder Price, who has called Popovich on numerous occasions to retrieve jumbo jets from fat cats with thinning balance sheets. One time, Lipke needed a plane repo-ed from Michigan and flown to Chicago. “All the electrical went out on the plane and Nick was flying at night,” he says. “He flew that plane back with zero electricity — no lights, nothing. There aren’t many guys that would be able to do that.”

Today Popovich, 56, is co-partner of Sage-Popovich, a repossession firm. (Sage is his wife, Pat, also the firm’s president.) Their clients include Citibank, Transamerica and Credit Suisse, and the firm annually earns, Popovich says, “into the low-to-mid seven figures.” That estimate isn’t ridiculous when you consider that the most difficult jobs can net Popovich anywhere from $600,000 to $900,000. Popovich’s specialty is big planes, jumbo jets, mostly; he’s repo-ed 1,300 of them in his career. And that’s just the solo gigs. Throw in the 65 repo men who work for him, and the number reaches closer to 2,000.

His mandate is simple. Someone misses a few payments. The bank wants to recover its plane. There will be an attempt to set up some kind of debt payment plan. Failing that, collateral has to be ponied up. If there is none, then an account executive reaches out to Popovich. But Jumbo Jets are expensive — a 747 will run you anywhere from $125 million to $260 million — and people who try to acquire such toys are loath to give them back. If the deadbeat gets wind that the bank is sniffing around his plane, he’s likely to spirit it away before anyone has a chance to grab it, and then it becomes a cat-and-rat game that can take months to complete.

And times have never been better. When lenders opened the sluice gates of easy credit throughout the last decade, high rollers went out and splurged on Gulfstreams and yachts. When the job goes away, the bonuses dry up and the stock market tanks, it’s a long and nasty downward spiral that leads to Popovich’s door. “Oh, those guys are a real piece of work,” says Popovich of the fallen Masters of the Universe. “We’ve had to fly halfway around the world just to find a plane we were told would be in Dallas. You have to think like a crook to find them.”

These days, Popovich is fielding assignments as fast as he can handle them. “We’ve got a lot of business right now,” he says. “We recently recovered planes from Okun and Nadel.” Popovich is referring to Edward Okun and Arthur G. Nadel, two Bernie Madoff-manqués that have been accused of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from unsuspecting clients who thought they were safely investing their money ($300 million in Nadel’s case, the largest alleged hedge fund fraud in Florida history). Among the booty that Popovich was hired to return were two Gulfstream IIs and a Lear Jet.

A good super repo man has a skill set that’s some mad hybrid of cat burglar, F.B.I. agent and con artist. And there’s real danger that comes with the job,  not just ticked-off homeowners wielding baseball bats. According to the American Recovery Association, there are, on average, one or two repo-related deaths a year.

In 2006, a Czechoslovakian-made Albatross L-39 combat jet lifted off from Sitka, Alaska, and crashed into a trailer park in the small community of Ketchikan, Alaska. The pilot was found dead 100 yards from the destruction, still strapped into his seat. He had no identification on him. His profession was listed as repo man. In Minnesota, a boat repo specialist named Kim Zarbinksi was repelled when the angry owner of a 40-foot yacht refused to give him his boat. So Zarbinksi resorted to sterner measures. He hired a SWAT team to help him grab the rotten booty.

You want stories? Popovich has volumes. And tells them without a note of bragging or conceit. On a recent warm afternoon, the unfailingly polite repo man and I are strolling through his cavernous warehouse in Gary, Ind. It feels like browsing a Costco run by the Pentagon. There are airplane parts as far as the eye can see — jet engines sit on shelves next to wheel casings and propellers. The detritus of a recent job sits in gigantic vats — hundreds of headphones in one, telephones in another.

Right now the warehouse is overflowing thanks to his most ambitious job to date: “stealing” a fleet of 240 corporate helicopters from a chain of flight schools for a tidy six-figure fee. Nevada-based Silver State was one of the country’s fastest growing companies, mainly because its owner Jerry Airola was constructing a pyramid scheme as tall as the Cheops. When everything collapsed, Popovich was hired to retrieve 240 copters from 51 locations around the country. In 24 hours, Nick and his 125-member crew had to change the locks at all 51 Silver Star schools, then move in 125 flatbeds to haul not only the copters but everything else they could carry — furniture, spare parts, computers, simulators.

“The copters were a mess,” says Popovich. “Some of them hadn’t been flown in months. Once we shipped them all back to the warehouse, we stripped the worst ones for parts for the bank. I figured that at least we were putting them to good use that way.”

Inside his 120-acre, ranch-style compound in rural Valparaiso, Ind., Popovich recalls some of his most notorious adventures in disarmingly soft-spoken and courtly tones. There was the time in the ’80s when he was thrown into a Haitian jail cell. Jail stints came with the job, but this time was different.

Inside the cell, Haitian cops had turned Popovich’s face inside out. The pain was ungodly. His shoes were gone. He was starving. And Popovich was sitting in a cage surrounded by 35 prisoners spitting epithets in his face. His only priority was to avoid getting hurt any worse than he already was. In his experience, that meant behaving like a total maniac, lashing out at the nearest prisoners and threatening to kill anyone that came near him.

The charge was the attempted theft of a 707 jumbo jet and he was facing 20 years to life. The jet in question belonged to a Caribbean tour company that went bust. After a few missed payments, the bank had called Popovich, who had tracked the plane from the Dominican Republic to Haiti. The gig promised to be simple. Popovich even spotted the battered silver-and-blue jet on the tarmac as he taxied into Port Au Prince’s Toussaint L’Ouverture airport on a sweltering February afternoon. All he needed was an hour to check the avionics, an open runway and a flight plan. It hadn’t worked out that way.

By the third day of his imprisonment — sometime after the American embassy politely informed him that the bank employing him wouldn’t put up $100,000 in bail — details started to come back. The tracer fire pinging the plane’s wings like popcorn kernels. Men with bayonets slamming on the fuselage. A police cruiser skidding to a halt right in front of the jet, blocking the runway and preventing Nick from taking off. The cops beating him senseless and throwing him in Penitentier National prison. And now, here he was.

On the seventh day of his incarceration, Haitian President Baby Doc Duvalier was overthrown and the rioting masses swung open all of the cell doors. Bruised, bloody and sleepless, Popovich hobbled out of his cell. As he taxied down the runway for the second time. he couldn’t help thinking that what they said was true: Flying home is always the easy part.

Reared in Hammond, Ind. — just a few miles from his current Valparaiso home base — Popovich got his pilot license when he was 16 because his father thought it might be useful some day. It was the only time he ever said “yes” to Dad. He tried Indiana University for a semester but it didn’t take.

Then in 1975 he met two men named Toby Howard and Billy Day in Wichita while hanging with some mutual friends. A pair of hustlers, they had all kinds of ideas for how to get rich quick. Popovich followed them for six months, hawking faulty tire repair kits that would explode in winter and some multilevel marketing schemes. The contacts he’d make through Howard and Day led him into small-time arms dealing. Popovich bought out a Utah company that had been indicted for weapons violations and turned it into a thriving business. “We built .22 caliber weapons into briefcases with micro switches and laser sightings,” he says. He sold his guns to the Canadian Special Ops and maybe to a few places he shouldn’t have. He mentions something about being “in South America at the wrong time.” He also drops a hint about conducting business in Iraq.

Popovich became a Braniff pilot in 1976. But that was boring. So he quit. He wouldn’t find his true calling until 1979, when a banker friend asked for his help getting back a Cessna 310 from a small-time chartering business. “I flew down there, grabbed it and got paid for it. I didn’t think anything of it,” he says. “I dropped off the plane and the guy calls yelling his head off. He says, ‘You didn’t ask for enough money! Send me a new bill but multiply it by three!'”

A few days later, Popovich found $145,000 in his checking account. A super repo man had been born.

Sage-Popovich now has 65 super repos, ranging from former crop-dusters and commercial pilots to Marines and airport mechanics. One of Popovich’s aces, Ed Dearborn, flew for Air America, the CIA’s covert Vietnam-era airline, and even helped build landing strips in remote jungle outposts in Southeast Asia. A good year is five popped planes; Kevin Lacey, one of Popovich’s best men, grabs 10 when he’s on a roll.

Now that Popovich has worked with some of his guys for 20 years or more, he has learned to take good care of them. When Lacey was imprisoned while attempting to snatch a jet in Brazil a few years ago, Popovich made sure the local hotel shipped edible food to his cell until the legal mess could be cleared up. It was the least he could do, given the fact that Lacey had been dragged in humiliating fashion right through the passenger terminal in handcuffs. “The inmates in Brazilian jails have more guns than the police,” said Lacey. “It’s best to make friends with them quickly.”

Because Lacey is a master mechanic, he is an invaluable resource for lenders. If a plane is sitting on blocks, its windows cracked and its avionics blown out, Lacey can fix it and fly it out. He’s also pretended to be a mechanic on numerous occasions; it gets him inside the plane and up in the air a lot quicker. That plane in Brazil required the use of a “claw hammer and rusty pliers” for Lacey to fix it.

Like most super repo guys, Lacey works freelance and flies just about everything with two wings. He’s certified in eight types of aircraft. The Air Force would be lucky to have him, but the repo game is far more thrilling. And a lot more lucrative.

The money is pretty good, depending on the size of the plane and the complexity of the repo. But for Lacey, the job is its own reward, despite the fact that many pilots consider it an unseemly profession. “My tact and my diligence are my greatest weapons,” he says. “I have to think and react before someone else does, or I’m sunk. Often, they will be on the lookout for you, so you find yourself chasing something while someone else is chasing you.”

The super repo business is extremely time-sensitive; Popovich must calibrate his maneuvers with military precision or else the entire operation crumbles. The minute Popovich gets a call, he has his team prepare a “Repo Book,” which contains all of the relevant documentation necessary to take back a plane. An airport won’t let you fly off with a jumbo jet without all kinds of paperwork: lease terminations, powers of attorney, customs bonds and certificates of insurance. (There’s a reason Sage-Popovich has eight lawyers on retainer.) Within an hour of the initial contact, everything is accounted for, all the way down to the catering for the crew.

While the Repo Book is assembled, Popovich will get his scouts on the ground to figure out where the plane is. The company has people all over the globe who are more than happy to track down an item for him for a small fee. More often than not, the aircraft will turn up in a major airport or commercial hub, and from there it’s easy sailing: Show up, hand over the documentation, get in the cockpit and fly away. Popovich estimates that three-quarters of his jobs go off exactly that way.

The rest are stickier affairs — starring angry owners, armed security, even intransigent airport workers, who will be out tens of thousands of dollars in unpaid fuel, landing fees and maintenance costs if a plane suddenly goes missing. In that case, half the game for Popovich is sneaking on to the aircraft and flying it out before anyone’s hip to what he’s doing. “That’s why you never, ever use the plane’s two-way radio,” says Popovich with a laugh. “People might get wind of your plans before you even have a chance to secure your seat belt. If you need to file a flight plan, you use your cell phone to call the tower.”

One time, he pretended to be a limo driver picking up a client. When airport security turned its back, Popovich slipped off his black overcoat and eight-point chauffeur cap and finagled his way onto the plane.

Aircraft on a runway is a lot easier to grab, but the walk to the cockpit is longer than the Bataan Death March. You might as well radio the tower before walking up to a vacant jet without permission, because you’re inevitably going to get busted. For a repo job in Miami, Popovich commandeered a catering truck from a friendly driver and the crew let him on board unbidden. On numerous occasions he has loaded his guys into a baggage cart, dropped the curtain and driven up to the cargo hold. From there, it’s a slinky stretch on hands and knees from the luggage compartment into the cockpit.

Really tough targets require sterner measures. In 1998, Popovich was hired to repo two jets in the possession of Francois Arpels, scion of the Van Cleef and Arpels jewelry empire. Arpels had leased two Boeing MD-81s for a charter service he started called Fairlines, but failed to make his payments.

“I landed in Paris and contacted Arpels to see if we could work something out,” says Popovich. “Arpels tells me, ‘I’m Francois Arpels and this is Paris. You will never find the planes.’ I looked him right in the eye and told him, ‘Frankie, they are all but gone. Trust me.’ He hated the fact that I called him Frankie. That really got under his skin.”

Using his European scouts, Popovich tracked one plane in Milan; the other was sitting on the tarmac near Terminal One at Charles DeGaulle Airport. The MD-81 was covered in official-looking documentation written in French, so Popovich just ripped everything off and hopped in. Big mistake. The airport cops stopped him as he was taxiing and threw him in a cell overnight. The next day, a French magistrate had handcuffs slapped on Popovich and ordered him returned to Chicago. “I was more determined than ever to grab those damn planes,” he says. “You push me, I push back harder.”

A few weeks later he snuck back into the country, convinced a captain with an Air Afrique fuel bus to fill up Arpel’s Boeing and flew it out. But the Milan plane was trickier. The engine was behaving erratically, and no sane person should fly a bird with a hinky engine. Popovich had a replacement engine in Munich (engine-swapping is a common occurrence in the business) and the only way to get it would be to make the 50 minute flight and pray.

As his pilot Ed Dearborn climbed to altitude, Popovich remembers sitting in the back, furtively stealing looks at that shaky equipment. “The whole time I sat there thinking, ‘If that engine lets go, I’m fucked.'” When they got to Germany and opened it up, the mechanics estimated that another couple of hours of airtime and the thing would have melted down. Along with Nick and his guys.

Popovich even met his wife on a repo. He was casing an exotic car company in Chicago when a leonine blond walked in to the dealership. “We all looked at each other and said, ‘A hundred bucks for the first guy that nails her,'” he says. “Twenty million dollars in business together later, here we are.” The couple’s two boys, Zachary, 18 and Max, 20, work for Sage-Popovich when they can. Zachary attends college and does repos in his spare time.

Popovich’s daredevil days are behind him for the most part; now he’s working with a new generation to do the job. He would like his two sons to go about it a little differently than he did. Maybe a bit more cautiously, for starters. He wants his son Zach to take over the business one day, but “he wants to open a bar in Sun Valley instead.” He has in mind an exit strategy, though he’s not sure when, if ever, he’ll implement it. Life is too good to stop now. Just pick up the paper — every day word breaks of another investor, another pyramid scheme, another crook who has a date with Popovich.

Tooling around Valparaiso in his Bentley, with Bob Dylan playing softly in the background, Popovich tries to put into words just how great it feels to pull off a big repo job. “It’s like a giant chess game, and the stakes can be your life,” he says. “It’s always a different challenge, a test of how smart you are. Can you outfox someone else? There’s always going to be some covert action involved. And you throw a big payoff in there, well, it’s just intoxicating.” He pauses. “Repossessing a giant, gleaming multimillion dollar plane is kind of like courting a beautiful woman. Sometimes the chase is better than the catch.” And the chase is never complete.

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2009/06/06/lear_jet_repo_man/