One of my acquaintances happens to be both a former Braniff Airways employee and familiar with the work of the great jazz singer Tony Bennett, both of which he highly admires, both of which were born around the same time, and both of which had their best years right around the same time. The main difference is that while both had their ups and downs and both were the victims of greedy pricks, Tony Bennett is still here whereas poor Braniff, after two ill-starred attempts at revival, is no more.
I’m thinking of Braniff tonight because one of the people who brought it down, Scot Spencer, is currently, erm, unavailable for questioning by the authorities (i.e., he’s skipped town), a status that is probably related to his latest brush with fame, the Berdoo Boondoggle (aka the “Airport to Nowhere”):
FBI agents and other law enforcement officers raided the San Bernardino International Airport Authority office and storage units as well as a home and offices used by Scot Spencer, a convicted felon who was awarded two no-bid agreements in 2007 to build a commercial airport at the former Norton Air Force Base.
The cost to build the [San Bernardino, California International] airport — which includes a luxury Million Air corporate jet terminal and a four-gate passenger concourse — has grown from $45 million to $142.5 million in local and federal taxpayer funds.
How did Scot Spencer come to be a convicted felon in the first place? Fellow Firepup Kelly Canfield did some sleuthing, and here’s what he found, courtesy of FindLaw:
Defendant-appellant Scot Spencer appeals from a judgment of conviction following a jury trial in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Reena Raggi, District Judge ). The jury found Spencer guilty of bankruptcy fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 152 and conspiracy to commit bankruptcy fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. On May 23, 1996, Spencer was sentenced in principal part to a term of fifty-one months of imprisonment and three years of supervised release.
This case arises from Spencer’s inability to disassociate himself from the most recent reincarnation of Braniff Airlines. The original Braniff Airlines (“Braniff I”), founded in the early days of commercial aviation, filed for bankruptcy in 1982. Subsequently, an investment group purchased Braniff’s name and certain assets to form another airline, Braniff, Inc. (“Braniff II”). In 1988, a corporation controlled by Jeffrey Chodorow and Arthur Cohen purchased a controlling interest in Braniff II. In 1989, Braniff II ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy. In 1990, Chodorow and Cohen, seeking to restart Braniff Airlines, formed a holding company named BNAir, Inc. and purchased the Braniff name from the Braniff II bankruptcy estate. Spencer was named president of BNAir. However, BNAir could not offer commercial passenger service without obtaining a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” from the United States Department of Transportation (“DOT”). See 49 U.S.C. § 41102(a). The DOT requires that applicants for such a certificate pass a fitness test. See 49 U.S.C. § 41102(b)(1).
In a meeting between BNAir and DOT in January 1990, the DOT advised BNAir that it had significant objections to BNAir’s proposed passenger service. In particular, DOT expressed its concern about Spencer’s role with the company, citing his lengthy criminal history and poor performance record with Braniff II.
As Kelly went on to say to me:
And indeedy he does have a lengthy criminal history. The seminal article about this is from July 23rd, from the Press Enterprise. Here: http://www.pe.com/localnews/stories/PE_News_Local_D_sbexpert24.3bbffb5.html
When asked why control of most of San Bernardino International Airport was handed over to a convicted felon — sent to prison for taking kickbacks for secretly managing an airline in bankruptcy — those overseeing the former Norton Air Force Base’s conversion into a commercial airport gave two reasons.
The first cited by elected officials and consultants leading the airport is that Scot Spencer, 46, was an expert with connections in the aviation industry who could help them secure an air carrier at the airport.
And second, he was the only one who would take on developing the airport; no other private company would do it.
“I would much rather be doing business with some large corporation that didn’t have a past,” said Don Rogers, executive director of the San Bernardino International Airport Authority, during a 4 ½- hour meeting with reporters and editors from The Press-Enterprise.
During that meeting, Rogers pointed to Spencer’s ability to recruit general aviation manager Million Air and more recently Boeing, which has been conducting tests of its freighter planes there off-and-on since October, among several reasons why he trusted Spencer to play such a large role at the airport.
Scot Spencer recruited Woolsey from Million Air — and as the story notes, Woolsey admits knowing about Spencer’s Braniff involvement. As Kelly says, they’re all from or in Texas. And so, Kelly also notes, is the master broker of the SBD properties: Hillwood, which is a Perot company. Hillwood formed in the Dallas-Fort Worth area: you know, exactly where Braniff II and III happened? Which resulted in Spencer’s fraud conviction and subsequent jail time? As Kelly says, they all had to know who Spencer is; the elected officials in the Press-Enterprise article admit they did, and they’re not aviation professionals.
And Jerry Lewis, who chaired the House Appropriations Committee at the time, waved through the Federal money for this project that just happened to be in his congressional district.
I leave you with another Tony Bennett performance, The Best is Yet to Come. Enjoy!