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Zimmerman says Riggs was pulling investor money to keep Panoply Pictures afloat, while underwriting personal vacations in tropical hot spots.
"He was using our investor funds to fund his flying habits," Zimmerman says. "That's about the time we shut the thing down and found out he was a scoundrel."
Zimmerman knew nothing of Riggs' criminal history until a European contact relayed a story about Riggs' pitch for another film idea.
Zimmerman says he's the one who told Bass that Riggs had described Bass as a managing partner in Panoply.
Bass also found himself entangled with a Northern Californian named Tony Tiscareno, who sued Bass over a claim that the writer had plagiarized the Fast Glass concept from Tiscareno's 1996 screenplay with the same name. (That lawsuit was resolved this month, after years of litigation.)
Bass says his relationship with Riggs may have cost him up to $3 million. Zimmerman says he's out about $1.3 million, counting his own seven years of litigation.
"What do I have to show for it?" Zimmerman says.
Kevin Sullivan was a provisional inspector working for the Federal Aviation Administration out of Los Angeles International Airport when police officers from Santa Monica dropped by in late 2008.
They showed him a video and a written complaint about a pilot who had buzzed the Santa Monica Pier with a high-speed jet on November 6, 2008. The plane, traveling at 280 miles per hour, had come within 500 feet of people standing on the pier. Witnesses reported being able to see the pilot's face and feel the heat from the plane's engine.
The officers wondered if the FAA could help identify the pilot. Sullivan says it took just 20 minutes to figure out that it was Riggs, who kept an L-39 at the airport at Van Nuys, California. A quick check of the FAA database showed Sullivan that Riggs had an extensive record, including the fatal Mojave crash.
Sullivan started making calls.
"Every single time I picked up the phone to make an inquiry, five other doors opened," Sullivan says. He learned that Riggs was selling illegal airplane joy rides to the general public with experimental airplanes, and without a commercial license.
"It's kind of like if a driver with a driver's license goes out and drives a tractor-trailer semi — you're out of class," Sullivan says. "The point is, you can't, as a private pilot, fly an airplane and get commercial compensation."
Sullivan figured out that Riggs buzzed the Santa Monica Pier to drum up publicity and impress investors for yet another film he hoped to produce. This one was called Kerosene Cowboys. The FAA hadn't approved the stunt, which turned out to be one of more than 25 violations that Sullivan uncovered.
Sullivan told the FAA that he feared Riggs might kill someone. He sought an emergency permanent revocation of Riggs' pilot certification.
Riggs accused Sullivan of having a conflict of interest and filed a $50 million lawsuit against another FAA employee who was exploring Riggs' shadowy aviation practices.
Eventually, Santa Monica authorities charged Riggs in connection with the buzzing. He was ordered to spend 60 hours picking up trash at the Santa Monica beach. The National Transportation Safety Board suspended Riggs' license.
Still, Sullivan says he had a hard time convincing the FAA to take his concerns about Riggs seriously. He suspects that Riggs had influence over FAA administrators. Roberts, the Lenexa writer who tracked Riggs' misdeeds, believes that Riggs may have been a federal informant.