By Bob Ruff and Carol Costello, CNN
(CNN) – Count the rich among the victims of the Great Recession. Just ask Ken Cage, who repossesses very expensive toys that the rich can no longer afford. Business, HIS business, is booming.
“We sold 12 boats and airplanes in a day,” he told us. His biggest repo? A nearly new $14 million Gulfstream jet taken from a real estate developer who fell behind in his payments. Cage often sells the repossessions himself, taking a small cut of each sale and giving the rest back to the banks.
Cage’s Orlando-based International Recovery & Remarketing Group (IRG) grabbed around 1,000 big-ticket items last year. Cage’s partner is Randy Craft, a former professional wrestler who provides the “muscle” in case a repo goes wrong. We caught up with them as they were going through the final run-through for their next target, a $700,000 Cessna Citation jet.
With most repos, says Cage, the challenge is where to go looking. Many owners move and hide their planes as soon as the bank says they are repossessing. Cage, who is part Sherlock Holmes and part James Bond, has contacts at most airports throughout Florida.
One source told him that this plane, the Cessna jet, was flown to another airport after IRG received the repo order from the bank. Cage discovered that the jet didn’t take on much fuel before it was last flown, so it couldn’t have gone far. After calling around to his sources, he located the Cessna in a hangar just 30 minutes from Orlando.
Before moving out to grab it, Craft and Cage go though the final run-through:
CRAFT: “So, it’s in a hangar?”
CAGE: “It’s in a hangar…”
CRAFT: “That’s why I didn’t spot it because I went by that airport and you couldn’t see it.
CAGE: “We’re going to be able to get into this hangar. We’ve got a pilot there now doing an inspection of the airplane.”
CRAFT: “They (the plane’s owners) know if anything’s going on at this point?
CAGE: “No. They think it’s hidden!...Let’s not put the plane on the field until we have the doors open. (Our pilot) is on the plane, and we can tug it out. That way we’re doing everything kind of undercover here…”
CAGE: “…This seems to be a case of hide and seek…Friday the call was probably made from the bank to the debtor…Saturday the plane moves.
CRAFT: He’ll be in for a surprise. Let’s go get it!
Five minutes later, Cage and Craft are in a pickup truck hunting down their $700,000 quarry. When they arrive at the airport, they spot their own pilot, who has already persuaded the hangar’s owner to unlock the hangar.
Cage is thrilled to finally find the plane and to see it unlocked. “You got it open? Awesome!”
While Craft and their pilot make sure the jet is fly-worthy, Cage calls the local police to let them know they have bank papers to repossess an airplane. “We got the call in. So this is legit now. It’s legal. Now we get into hustle mode and get this baby out of here.”
As the plane is towed to the pump for refueling, everyone keeps an eagle eye out in case the owner or his pilot show up and cause trouble.
That has happened before. “In New Jersey,” Cage recalls, “we picked up an airplane from a flight school there. (He) was a little upset we didn’t let him know, so he chases us down the runway…clearly the airplane had more speed and we made it out fine.”
On this day, the owner is nowhere to be seen, but there’s a hitch. “The jet fuel pump is shut down. So we can’t get fuel. We’ve got enough to get there. It’s less than you’d prefer to have though. So that’s the thing. So he (Cage’s pilot) says we have enough. We have enough.”
Five minutes later the Cessna jets roars down the narrow runway and is airborne. Ten minutes after that the pilot safely lands the Cessna at an airport where Cage keeps all the planes that he repossesses until they are ready to be sold.
Meanwhile, Cage is en route back to his home airport when his assistant calls to say the Cessna’s owner just found out his plane was missing. He instructs her to have it moved into a locked hangar in case the owner tries to take it back.
“We got the airplane,” says Cage, “and now he’s mad because he thought he was beating us, and in the end we ended up getting the airplane…There is danger. I don’t think of it as danger, because if I did I probably wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.”
As for Craft, the former wrestler known as “Rockin’ Randi”: “I find it thrilling to be able to go in and steal something and know I’m doing it legally, and if I get away with it and it goes off flawless, then I’ve done a great job.”