Friday, March 10, 2006
DA considers possibility of theft at Vaca airport
By Jason Massad
The Vacaville (CA) Reporter
Investigators from the Solano County District Attorney’s office are looking into the possible theft over the years of hundreds of dollars in cash and county property at the Nut Tree Airport in Vacaville. The mishandling of cash, loose controls on how fuel has been purchased at the airport, and questions about the use of county credit cards at the facility came under scrutiny in 2005 by a county auditor.
Unnamed “discrepancies” uncovered by the audit were forwarded to District Attorney Dave Paulson, who said Thursday that he has not yet decided whether to prosecute, he said.
“There’s taking home a ballpoint pen … and there’s major thefts,” Paulson said. “It’s way in between that. It’s on the lower end of that.”
The discrepancies found in the audit focused on problems occurring at the airport as far back as 2001, when John Swizer managed the general-aviation facility, which is located off Monte Vista Avenue.
Swizer retired from his job at the county-owned airport in 2003, and a county review of the airport quickly followed his departure. The review was critical of the airport’s operations but praised its potential.
Andy Swanson has been the manager at the airport for more than a year. The facility has operated smoothly in that time, say county officials.
“He inherited something that appeared to be a problem,” John Taylor, the county’s top real estate manager, said about Swanson.
No potential criminal defendants have been named in the airport investigation.
However, there have been a relatively small circle of employees working at the airport over the last five years.
A secretary who worked at the airport has been reassigned within the county as part of a scheduled rotation, Taylor said. The county also employs a maintenance worker at the airport. A contractor, Blue Ridge Aeronautics, runs the airport’s fixed-base operations.
Paulson said that the crimes were likely misdemeanors and that statute of limitations on any crimes could come into play. He indicated he could make a decision on charges in the next several weeks.
“It’s not looking real likely, but we’ll go forward with the investigation,” he said. “I’m not sure we’d be able to prosecute it.”
The airport now operates with many of the financial controls in place that were recommended by the audit, Taylor said.
Basic practices were instituted, he said, such as making sure the county employee who accepts hangar lease payments at the airport doesn’t also deposit those checks. Having only three employees at the airport makes some accounting practices harder to enforce, he added.
But the core of the county’s operations have been improved, he said.
“We have cleared up absolutely all the concerns about cash handling and purchasing,” he said.