The Baba Chronicles

For some people, African millionaire Foutanga Dit Babani Sissoko was a dream come true. For others he was a nightmare.

Sissoko spent four months in New York before returning to Africa in March 1996. While at JFK airport, Sissoko handed an airline ticket agent a check for $10,000. "She was shocked, she could not believe it," Adamek recalls, adding that Sissoko then began handing out checks in various amounts to complete strangers while he waited to board his flight. "He finished two checkbooks that way," she marvels.

His spending was no less grand when he arrived in Miami -- in handcuffs -- nearly eight months later. After his August 1996 arrest in Switzerland on the helicopter charge, Sissoko began making plans for his inevitable extradition to South Florida. Adamek and Dubois were among those immediately dispatched to Miami. Hotel suites were booked, automobiles bought, and housing arrangements completed. (According to his attorneys, Sissoko leased ten apartments on the 26th floor of Courvoisier Courts for approximately $50,000 per month; he also purchased five condominiums at Tequesta Point for somewhere between two and three million dollars. Both developments are on Brickell Key.) Following his release on bail, he strolled through an El Dorado furniture showroom, pointing out the pieces he wanted delivered the next day to his condominiums.

Sissoko was not permitted to leave Dade County without approval from the U.S. Attorney's Office, which demanded that his movements be monitored by a private security team hired by his attorneys. Despite these obstacles, Sissoko was determined to continue overseeing his far-flung business empire. He and his staff commonly stayed up most nights in order to maintain telephone contact with subordinates in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.

His fondness for expensive jewelry was also unaffected by the pending criminal case, much to the delight of jewelers in Bal Harbour, a favored Sissoko shopping destination. After a while, Adamek says, the jewelry stores came to him, carting their goods by armored car to Brickell Key so he could view merchandise in the convenient privacy of his own home. "Watching it all," Adamek remembers, "was like a fairy tale."

Adamek's fairy-tale world, however, was as flawed as it was fragile. Although initially awed by Sissoko's wealth, she eventually began to understand how he used it to manipulate people. "He doesn't pay the people who work for him; he gives them gifts," she explains, adding that as a result they find it impossible to save money and so are forced to wait anxiously for Sissoko to bestow the next gift upon them. That method of operating, according to Adamek, creates an environment that is part cult, part carnival. "Baba wants everyone to stay with him and do whatever he wants," she says. "He wants you to be dependent on him."

But as Adamek would learn, Foutanga Dit Babani Sissoko was not someone to depend on. Among other things, she blames him for poisoning her relationship with Rene Dubois by corrupting her long-time boyfriend with women and money. And because she refused to acquiesce, she was summarily jettisoned -- thrown out on the street and left penniless.

Nearly eight hours into her flight from Miami to Gambia, Sally Ragsdale heard a loud and ominous noise erupting from the rear of her Air Dabia Boeing 747. As the senior flight attendant onboard, she grabbed another crew member and they frantically raced toward the sound. Peering out a window along the starboard side of the plane, she was stunned to see that a 30-foot section of the wing's metal skin had blown off and apparently collided with the tail. "I'll never forget it," she recalls with a shudder. "A panel had flown off and you could see the honeycomb interior of the wing." Still an hour from the Gambian capital of Banjul, the damaged plane began to shake. Ragsdale tried to remain calm, but she couldn't help feeling both scared and stupid. Why, she asked herself, did she ever agree to work for Baba Sissoko?

A flight attendant for nineteen years, thirteen of them with Braniff, Ragsdale had spent most of the last six years working for private companies aboard their corporate jets. She spent one NBA season ferrying the Utah Jazz from city to city. Other employers included Chase Manhattan Bank, Planet Hollywood, and Rolling Stone magazine. She even worked several weeks aboard the Gulfstream that shuttled former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and motivational guru Tony Robbins around the country for a series of speaking engagements.

This past April she received a call at her New Jersey home from a man who identified himself as a captain for Air Dabia. She had never heard of the airline, but the caller, Mamadou Jaye, told Ragsdale that she had come highly recommended and that he was in desperate need of a senior flight attendant for a five-week assignment carrying Muslims on a religious pilgrimage from Africa to Saudi Arabia. The plane would be departing from Miami for Africa the very next day. Jaye offered her $4700 plus expenses. The money was adequate, Ragsdale acknowledged, but she had another incentive. Her brother was in the U.S. Air Force, stationed in Saudi Arabia. "I thought it would be a great chance to see him," she recalls, "so I said yes."

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