By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
Since the collapse of the deal in early 2006, some angry investors who watched the company's stock price crash have filed a class-action lawsuit. In their complaint, they lay out what they believe really happened with GlobeTel's Russian maneuver (GlobeTel has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit). The lawsuit alleges that GlobeTel executives drew up the Russian deal and valued it at $600 million without making any kind of effort to determine what such a system would actually cost, what sort of political or business hurdles might exist in the 30 Russian cities (which were never actually named), or what kind of potential there really was to generate revenue. The company then contracted with a couple of Russian businessmen to find financing, promising them a 2 percent commission ($12 million) to find someone in Russia to provide the $600 million. The two agents in turn contacted a Russian "underground oligarch" named Maxim Vyacheslavovich Chernizov, and the three Russian men formed Internafta a company that manufactured nothing and provided no services. According to the lawsuit, the only reason Internafta was formed was for Chernizov to deliver a line of credit to GlobeTel so the Internafta trio could then split the $12 million commission. And early in 2006, Chernizov provided GlobeTel with a letter of credit for the first $300 million, drawn on a bank in Brazil. But GlobeTel balked, saying that its U.S. banks couldn't accept the Brazilian bank's guarantee. The deal soon fell apart, and GlobeTel's stock price tanked.
Byron and Jayson, meanwhile, called for regulatory action, saying that GlobeTel's shenanigans were exactly the thing the SEC was supposed to be watching for. And in July, the AMEX halted trading on the company's stock.
"Reality has shown that my suspicions were well-founded," Jayson says. "This blimp remains just a 'float-tested' model that's far behind the schedule [GlobeTel] laid out for months. The Russian deal never materialized. They burned cash like crazy. Shareholders got creamed.
"It's pretty easy to figure out who was right about GlobeTel and who was blowing smoke."
Still, there is the dream. And it remains a powerful one. Just spend some time on investor Internet bulletin boards, where you'll encounter GlobeTel shareholders (at least the ones not suing the company) who ridicule naysayers who doubt that GlobeTel can get an army of blimps up to an altitude that blimps have rarely flown.
And about those balloons we never saw any. Although the company is based in Broward County, its airships are being developed in an airport hangar in Palmdale, California.
But GlobeTel fans were excited about a recent test that was held at the California proving grounds. An actual blimp not an ultralight or helicopter standing in for one was lofted carrying communications equipment that created a hot zone for voice and Internet.
The blimp's soaring altitude? One hundred feet. Tethered.
Other groups, however, seem to be having more success. In September of 2005, the nonprofit research organization U.S. Southwest Research Institute managed to keep an airship in the stratosphere for five hours. The craft, called the HiSentinel, carried 27 kilograms of equipment during the demonstration.
GlobeTel's stratellites would need to carry more than 1,000 kilos of equipment for 18 months at a time.
The U.S. government is betting on another company, Lockheed Martin, awarding the longtime aeronautics firm $200 million to build high-altitude ships for homeland security and emergency services. Already, Lockheed airships are working in lower altitudes. (The contract is now in some jeopardy, however, following recent proposed budget cutbacks.)
Government and industry interest in blimps does seem to be growing. It was former President Ronald Reagan's chief of staff, Alexander Haig now a Boca Raton-based infomercial host after all, who was one of the first to float the idea of blimp-based communications in the 1990s. But is GlobeTel the company to make it happen?
For a year and a half, that was the goal of Bob Jones, the NASA engineer GlobeTel employed from 2004 to 2005 to get its stratellites aloft. And during that time, he says, he worked like a dog to get engines, cowlings, and propellers in shape for upcoming tests.
"When I left in September, there were engines in place," Jones says. But in December, Jones received a call from a concerned Michael Sands, who for two years had done contract public relations work for GlobeTel stratellite division and was preparing for a December 14 demonstration for the media.
Sands, who is now suing GlobeTel for allegedly failing to pay him, tells New Times that when he arrived for the test, he was told that there was a problem. The stratellite wouldn't be able to fly.
The demonstration was supposed to feature a blimp powering around on both of its engines, steered remotely. But Sands was told that during testing of the stratellite, damage had been done to a wire harness the electrical wire network that would power things like propellers.
It was a major setback, Sands says, and it was too late to call off the media. So GlobeTel gamely went through with the demonstration, inflating the airship and sending it up on a tether.
"They filled it with helium and sent it up on a rope like a blimp over a car dealership," Sands says in disgust.