The story of Molen: from 2007 article (long post) Few thing have changed!
Meanwhile, in Atlanta, a man named Michael Molen was making news for his wild ideas about blimps. In 2002, Molen told the Toronto Star that the "stratellites" of his company, Sanswire, would be working in the stratosphere in "early 2004" at a cost of $36 million. Molen's spiel attracted small investors who wanted in on his scheme.
By early 2004, Molen wasn't any closer to launching blimps, but at that point, he did hire a designer: California garage inventor Vern Koenig, who is something of an enigma. Although he says he has a college degree in naval architecture, Koenig refuses to say where he earned it. He also claims that GlobeTel's competition, Lockheed Martin, which is developing its own set of blimps for homeland security applications, is a front for the CIA. In addition, Koenig recalls that he once sold a model of the Hindenburg to the Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum in Los Angeles for $20,000.
Somehow, in his busy schedule, Koenig stumbled across information about Molen and his stratellite concept on the Internet early in 2004. Koenig made a phone call, "and the next minute, I'm signing an agreement with Mike Molen," he says. "Essentially, that's how I got involved."
Molen wanted progress from Koenig, fast. In August 2004, Molen had promised to fly something for a group of interested investors, including GlobeTel's then-CEO, Timothy Huff.
"They wanted an airship from me to take up a 25-pound payload," Koenig says. But Molen hadn't sent him the money he needed for an August demonstration. "[Molen] calls me up one day and says 'How's the airship coming?' and I told him it's not.
"Apparently, Molen borrowed $10,000 from GlobeTel to buy an ultralight airplane. I got half the airplane built, and I threw it into a rented truck and drove from Redlands, California, to Atlanta. I finished the airplane in Atlanta, and the test was near the airport."
The plan for the test, since stratellites didn't exist yet, was to attach communications gear to the ultralight airplane for a short flight to demonstrate that a craft aloft in the atmosphere could beam down signals the way a satellite in space does. But there was a hitch.
"I told him I can't fly an unlicensed aircraft in commercial airspace. And he said, 'If you fly up there, how much would the penalty be?'"
Koenig told Molen he didn't care how much the fine was; he wasn't going to violate Federal Aviation Administration rules. So Molen wound up attaching wireless cell phone transmitters to a high-altitude helicopter he had rented.
"Molen — if he wasn't selling Sanswires, he'd be selling used cars," Koenig says.
Soon after the jury-rigged demonstration, Huff began negotiations to buy Molen's Sanswire. GlobeTel acquired Sanswire's assets at the end of 2004 by paying Molen 6 million shares of GlobeTel stock. At the time, Molen was in the middle of a personal bankruptcy action. He hadn't paid taxes since 1988 and had debts totaling $2.5 million. He listed a mere $6,200 in assets — including $800 in cash, $200 in clothing, and $5,000 in household goods.
Molen also owed several investors personally for loans they'd made to him. Jay Pontrielli, an Atlanta lawyer who represented one of Molen's investors, says it took ten years to recoup a $30,000 loan his client made to Molen — and it was Molen's father who settled the debt. The investor, William J. Wager, died during the litigation. "We had to chase Molen down for several years and then several more years after we got a judgment,"
Pontrielli says. "It seemed to the people he was able to raise money from that he had a persuasive business plan for this whole stratellite thing... He's left a trail of frustrated creditors chasing after him."
But Molen counters that only a few investors have "made his life miserable." He still thinks his stratellite idea was good. "I wouldn't say that the business plan was a pipe dream," he says in a telephone interview. "In any business, you find investors who believe in ideas.