FBI probes Foothills Regional Airport

Winston-Salem Journal on June 13, 2012 released the following:

“By: Sharon McBrayer and Julie N. Chang | Media General News Service

MORGANTON –
The FBI is investigating Foothills Regional Airport and two of its employees have been suspended without pay.

A news release Tuesday from Foothills Regional Airport Authority said a federal criminal investigation involves two employees of the airport, Alex Nelson and Brad Adkins. Nelson was the airport manager but Adkins did not hold a management position, according to airport officials.

“The Airport continues normal operations without interruption,” the statement said. “Brent Brinkley, a long time employee, has been appointed as acting administrator.”

FBI Public Affairs Specialist Shelley Lynch said, “As a matter of Department of Justice policy, the FBI can neither confirm nor deny the existence of investigations.”

According to the FBI’s website, it investigates public corruption, major white-collar crime, significant violent crime, civil rights violations and transnational/national criminal organizations and enterprises and cyber-based attacks and high-technology crimes, along with national security threats.

Airport Authority Chairman and Burke County Commissioner Chair Wayne Abele said Tuesday no one has been charged with anything and federal investigators haven’t given them any information about the investigation.

“All I know is it’s an ongoing investigation,” Abele said.

Abele said about 10 FBI personnel showed up at the airport last Tuesday, accompanied by Caldwell County Sheriff’s deputies, and seized records and computers.

“The FBI, they don’t charge people unless they have a concrete case,” Abele said.

The public airport, located on NC 18, receives funding from Burke and Caldwell counties and the cities of Morganton and Lenoir. The funding the airport received in the 2011-12 budgets of the two counties and two cities were:

  • Caldwell County — $48,254, which includes money for capital improvements; and $30,017 in property taxes the county collects on planes, said Stan Kiser, Caldwell County manager.
  • Burke County — $36,246 for operating expenses; $4,166 in capital improvement money; and $4,100 from property taxes paid on planes, said Paul Ijames, Burke County finance director and assistant county manager. He said more planes are kept on the Caldwell County side. He said even though $4,100 was budgeted for taxes, only $3,300 has been collected so far in property taxes on the 20 planes listed for the Burke County side.
  • City of Morganton — $38,088 for operating expenses and $4,166 in capital funding, said City Manager Sally Sandy.
  • City of Lenoir — $42,320 total for operating and capital expenses, said Kaye Reynolds, communications and resource director for the city of Lenoir.

None of the boards of the four governments has voted on their individual budgets for next year.

Each one of the four has a representative on the Airport Authority, which alerted the two counties and two cities about the investigation, according to the release from city of Morganton Attorney Louis Vinay. Vinay also is acting as the authority’s attorney after its previous one retired, Kiser said.

Cuts to the airport’s budget from the four member entities resulted in a $42,000 revenue shortfall on the operations side, Nelson recently told the Burke County Board of Commissioners. The airport made internal cuts, shortened operational hours and skipped on mowing to cut that amount down to about $24,000, Nelson said at the time.

The airport planned on asking each entity for additional money for this fiscal year, Nelson said.

During that recent meeting, Burke County Commissioner Maynard Taylor questioned why the airport needed more money and why it isn’t self-supporting. He also questioned what the average county resident received from the airport.

“We’re spending more money than we have every year to keep this thing above ground so to speak, but the average citizen in Burke – what are they getting for that,” Taylor said in previous reports.

The airport’s condition has improved since the authority took over, Abele said at the meeting.

At the time, Nelson said the airport is a “tourism magnet,” adding that area colleges recruiting athletes use the airport.

Burke County commissioners have put off the funding request.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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