Scott Hopes has been replaced as chairman and CEO of troubled Sarasota-based private air service company AeroVanti. His departure comes just months after taking on the job to turn around a company that close observers, clients and court papers say is in financial disarray, facing potential federal investigations and a growing number of lawsuits.
Hopes, in online statement posted to a Facebook page for disgruntled customers late Thursday afternoon, says he was replaced by Todd Britton-Harr, the brother of founder and former AeroVanti CEO Patrick Britton-Harr.
Hopes, a former Manatee County administrator and elected school board member in the county, wrote that he was notified of the decision Saturday, Oct. 14 while on flight to Sarasota from Portland, Maine. He claims that in that conversation he was told that that “only two shareholders out of more than 60” met to pass a resolution to replace AeroVanti’s board of directors.
Hopes was hired in June to turn the company around as it faced state and federal lawsuits claiming it sold $150,000 memberships for planes that had been repossessed; allegations its fleet had been grounded while pouring money into pro sports and other sponsorships; and questions about the veracity of claims it raised $100 million from investors.
At the time, he said he understood the severity of the situation and was dedicated to turning it around. He wrote Thursday that he had not been paid for his work because he had “deferred taking any compensation, including expense reimbursements” while clients were still not getting what they’d paid for.
On a video call on late July, he laid out a turnaround plan that, he said, would in time help the company rebound. But on Thursday, he cast doubt that those efforts will pan out.
“While we were on schedule to have four aircraft airworthy for the holiday season beginning with Thanksgiving, it is doubtful those particular planes will be available to AeroVanti given this dramatic change,” Hopes wrote.
He added that he has “received calls from a number of you and shared greater detail of the status of your flying club.”
“Because I have been contacted by a number of attorneys who have either filed lawsuits this week against AeroVanti and the Britton-Harrs or are preparing cases, I will need to limit written correspondence.”
In July, in a case not connected to AeroVanti, the U.S. Department of Justice, through the FBI’s Baltimore field office, filed a civil complaint against Patrick Britton-Harr alleging that in his role as owner and operator of Provista Health LLC as well as multiple other corporate entities, he submitted “claims to Medicare for laboratory tests that were not ordered by health care providers, not medically necessary and sometimes never performed.”
And questions may be raised by investors about Todd Britton-Harr's ability to lead given his own troubled past. In 2012 he was sentenced to four years in federal prison on charges of making false statements in loan and mortgage documents. At the time, he was being held on federal drug trafficking charges in Texas.
Patrick Britton-Harr, after initially commenting in June via text messages that the company was flying planes, hasn't returned repeated calls and texts for comment.