Let’s put the 2016 crash land- ing of commercial air service at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in perspective: It cost taxpayers more than $85,000 a week to ensure daily flights to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
Thus, when tone-deaf officials of the Western Reserve Port Authority say the book is closed on the fatal business deal with Aerodynamics Inc., we say, “Go fly a kite.”
We call on the prosecutors of Mahoning and Trumbull counties to launch an investigation into the port authority’s payment of $511,714 to ADI for six weeks of flight service to Chicago.
The money came out of a $1.2 million fund created by the WRPA to attract commercial air service.
Commissioners in Mahoning and Trumbull counties committed $420,000 to the fund from revenue generated by hotel-motel taxes. The federal government through the U.S. Department of Transportation kicked in $780,000.
That’s why prosecutors Dennis Watkins in Trumbull County and Paul Gains in Mahoning County should delve into the use of the public dollars. Watkins and Gains should ask the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland to participate in the probe, seeing as how federal money was used to lure ADI.
Port Authority officials are of the opinion that 65 percent of the $511,714 paid to ADI, which operated Great Lakes JetExpress in the short-lived Youngstown-Chicago service, will be reimbursed by the federal government.
We had hoped that all the details surrounding the ADI deal would come in a lawsuit filed last year by the port authority to recover $361,714 paid to the airline as a revenue guarantee. The money was to ensure ADI would be profitable during the startup phase.
At the time the suit was filed, John Moliterno, WRPA’s executive director, and Dan Dickten, aviation director, garnered public support by contending ADI was not truthful in saying it had baggage- handling agreements with American Airlines and United Airlines.
The absence of such agreements was a deal breaker not only for the port authority, but also for the traveling public. Valley residents seeking to connect to other airlines at O’Hare were forced to first retrieve their luggage and then go through the check-in process again.
In the lawsuit, WRPA claimed ADI breached its contract and committed fraud, negligent misrepresentation and fraudulent misrepresentation.
The suit alleged that when airport officials learned there wasn’t an interline agreement, ADI tried to correct the problem but ultimately failed to do so. As a result, the authority stopped paying the revenue guarantee, and ADI ended its flights to Youngstown.
The airline filed a counterclaim demanding $294,221 it billed the authority for flights in August 2016 that it never received.
The stage was set for a court battle that held out the promise of an airing of the central question: Who was telling the truth as to the baggage-handling issue?
We were all prepared for a full-blown hearing when the port authority’s board of directors voted Friday to pay $150,000 to ADI to settle the lawsuits.
No, that isn’t a misprint. After all the bark and bluster, the authority folded like a cheap suit.
Here’s how the taxpayers should interpret the agreement: Dickten and Moliterno sold the Valley a bill of goods when they said the airline was fraudulent.
The parties entered mediation in October, and the mediator obviously found ADI’s claim more legitimate than the port authority’s.
“We didn’t do well in mediation,” Dickten told The Vindicator Friday.
If that statement doesn’t inspire confidence, consider this one from Moliterno:
“We shake hands, part ways, and we all go on with our lives.”
No, we don’t.
Taxpayers have a right to find out why the port authority is so cavalier when it comes to spending more than a half million dollars on a wing and a prayer.
We are reminded of the $70,000 the authority paid to two former female employees to settle sexual harassment allegations.
What was most egregious about the settlement was the secrecy surrounding it.
Dickten insisted the letters to the port authority from the lawyer representing Andrea Hoffman and Lauren Iaderosa alleging misconduct “contained nothing more than wild allegations and misinformation.”
But the taxpayers who foot the bill were left in the dark because of the confidentiality agreement signed by the parties.
The WRPA is a public entity that operates with public dollars, which is why prosecutors Watkins and Gains must get all the facts surrounding the ADI deal and share them with the taxpayers.