He and Dominguez would drive to the plane and throw the duffel bags in the tail-section storage compartment. About 15 minutes before dawn, Ward lifted off alone over the office parks and turned east.

The 1992 Socata, a French-made aircraft, had a cruising speed of 200 mph and an 800-mile range, which meant four refueling stops. Down below, Ward saw highway checkpoints crawling with cops. High above, he could have a drink, maybe smoke a joint or watch some porn on his laptop.

Flying below 18,000 feet he didn't need a flight plan. Most of the airports where he stopped were sleepy municipal or mom-and-pop operations.

Still, Ward didn't take any chances. After taxiing to a refueling stop, he ran through the maintenance checklist like a one-man Nascar pit crew.

"There's not one second wasted," he said. "When you land, you break out your computer as you're gassing your airplane. Getting the weather, you get the quart of oil … grab it, stick it in … throw away the spout, wipe your hands [and] jump in the airplane."

By dusk, he could see the green rolling hills and farmland of southern Pennsylvania. He typically landed at Smoketown, but fearing excessive use would draw attention, he had started using airports in York and Carlisle, both within 60 miles of Lancaster.

Ward had lectured Coronado about his loud clothing. He criticized him once for failing to use the turn signal on their way to dinner and for not keeping his DMV documents current.

Coronado resented Ward's bossy attitude, but Ward wouldn't back down. "I was dressing him and telling him what to do, but I mean it was a disaster," said Ward. "It's no way to fly."

Eventually, the lectures had the desired effect. By the fall of 2006, Coronado had changed his wardrobe, trading his shiny pants for Dockers, and had stopped driving without insurance or with expired registration tags. He had also taken Ward's advice and started a carpet cleaning business as a front.

But Coronado had continued to work with other, less-expensive suppliers, and their loose talk soon caught up with him.

On Jan. 12, 2007, two men drove down from New York to pick up cocaine that Coronado had received by truck. Tipped to the deal, Drug Enforcement Administration agents followed them and pounced on Coronado after the transaction. The agents found $1.8 million at Coronado's home.

Facing a potential 20-year prison term, Coronado was pressured to cooperate. He refused to disclose much about his Mexican connections, fearing retaliation against his family. But he was willing to talk about the cocaine shipments he received by air from California.

One morning in June 2007, Ward walked outside in his bathrobe to get the newspaper and was greeted by squads of police and DEA agents.

"Don't tell these idiots anything!" he yelled to his wife. "These people are not your friends!"

Ward figured Kontos could cut a deal, as he had in the past. But prosecutors, suspecting that Kontos was laundering drug money, had seized 12 of his properties. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit obstruction of justice, received a 21-month sentence and agreed to cooperate.

Kontos revealed that Ward had buried drug money in his backyard. Investigators didn't find anything there, but they did find $67,500 in a bag of walnuts in the freezer.

Ward pleaded guilty to drug and money-laundering charges and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The federal government seized his Carlsbad house, the money in the freezer and his Socata aircraft. His partner, Dominguez, also received a 10-year sentence.

Ward's flying career was over.

Kontos "said he would never represent an informant, and the guy turns out to be one himself," Ward said.

PHOTOS: Key DEA surveillance images of Ward and Dominguez