Updated December 22, 2013
A lawsuit (pdf) was filed against the Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority and its former director December 18, 2013, by a former employee of the airport. Former Grand Junction Mayor Bill Pitts, who has knowledge of the case, appeared at a small gathering of local citizens at a bagel shop on Main Street Friday morning, December 20, to talk about the case.
Asked about the fraud at the heart of the case, Pitts explained part of it involves the long, black, electrified security fence constructed on three sides of the airport in 2011. The fence hurt airport-related businesses economically, forcing them to close or relocate. Pitts pointed out that a fault in the fence project is that it exists on only three sides of the airport, leaving an entire two-mile stretch along the north edge of the airport unprotected. When former airport manager Rex Tippets filled out a form required for the fencing project, Pitts said, there were numerous boxes that needed to be checked. One of them asked “Will any of the public be affected by the fence?,” and Tippets answered “No.” Despite how the public was affected by it, Pitts said no public hearing about the fence was ever held.
Another allegation, Pitts told the group, is that three years ago Tippets paid an airport employee, Donna Vanlandingham, a substantial sum of money upon her dismissal to buy her silence about airport affairs. When asked what the employee knew that Tippets wanted her to to keep quiet about, Pitts paused briefly and explained that Airport Authority contracts for goods and services are supposed to be put out for public bid, but they weren’t. Instead, contracts were awarded to businesses owned by Airport Authority members, employees and/or their friends.
Pitts said despite his repeated efforts to alert authorities about improprieties at the airport, he was unable to get City Council, the County Commissioners or the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce to address the the problems. He said he couldn’t get the Daily Sentinel or the local media to cover the issues, either.
Pitts also revealed that the U.S. Department of Transportation is also involved in an investigation of the Airport Authority, possibly involving vehicles purchased by the airport. Pitts reported that the Airport Authority has purchased four GMC pickup trucks from Fuoco Motors every year for the last nine years, but no documentation exists of the trucks ever coming in or going out of the airport. Pitts said the same lack of documentation applies to a substantial amount of other equipment at the airport as well; he estimated the value to be into the millions of dollars.
“So fraud, yeah there’s fraud involved,” Pitts continued, “but the documentation of a lot of things out there…they haven’t been documented. But the Authority knew this!” Pitts expressed his amazement that the Airport Authority was able to get away this type of behavior.
The members of the Airport Authority involved at the time of the improprieties alleged in the lawsuit were John R. Stevens (an investment advisor located on Rood Ave. in Grand Junction), former Grand Junction Mayor and current candidate for county commissioner Gregg Palmer, Denny Granum (of Monument Homes Development, LLC), Doug Simons (co-owner of Enstrom’s Candies), Dan Lacy (Division Manager of Eaton Metal Products) and Tom LaCroix (attorney at Lacroix and Hand). Pitts said all of these members of the Authority either should have known about what was going on at the airport or did know but didn’t do anything about it.
Pitts is part of a group of airport tenants that hired their own attorney. Several members of the tenant group and their attorney had already reviewed the documents and files the FBI seized from the airport authority in November.
Pitts also reported that the security fence was never necessary to comply with TSA security requirements, and that the security gates are slated to be removed.
“All that’s necessary for the airport to comply with TSA is two yellow lines,” Pitts explained. “The fence wasn’t needed and the gates weren’t needed. There’s a process going on right now to eliminate the gates and make Grand Junction Airport a friendlier airport.”