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Founder of AeroVanti back at the helm — third leader in 17 days

Despite legal troubles facing the company and possible federal investigations, Patrick Britton-Harr is front and center. Again.


  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 6:00 p.m. October 31, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Patrick Britton-Harr founded AeroVanti in 2021.
Patrick Britton-Harr founded AeroVanti in 2021.
File photo
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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Patrick Britton-Harr appears to be back in charge of the troubled Sarasota air service company AeroVanti just days after his brother, Todd Britton-Harr, resigned as CEO and chairman in the wake of firing former Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes.

Patrick Britton-Harr, the founder and once-deposed leader of the company, announced his return in a 509-word email posted to Facebook Oct. 31. Patrick Britton-Harr announced new rules on how club members can use their memberships, adding yachts to its services and says the company was working to get back on its feet.

“As we reset the foundation of AeroVanti at is core and build up the company infrastructure with aircrafts, yachts, employees and crews all for members benefits, the stability for operations of the luxury membership program is one of the primary focus,” Britton-Harr wrote.

Britton-Harr, however, did not directly address the circumstances of how he left the company. He also didn't address the short CEO term of Hopes, or the even shorter CEO term of his brother. (Patrick Britton-Harr's exit from AeroVanti belied a heady startup phase in 2022, when he and the company were written about in multiple area and industry publications. That includes Patrick Britton-Harr being named to the Business Observer's 2022 40 under 40 list.) 

And, notably, Britton-Harr didn't address the litany of issues the company is facing. That list includes a growing number of federal and state lawsuits; $25 million in funding that’s been rescinded; airplanes that have been grounded and repossessed; a rotating roster of CEO;  and allegations proceeds from a scheme to defraud Medicare were used to start the company.

Instead Britton-Harr blamed too much success for the company’s woes, writing that “the massive support and growth our club received during its development stages outpaced the operational capacities and overall needs of our members.”

“With tempered opinion and patience from our members," he adds in the post, "AeroVanti has a renewed shot at success.”

Deep trouble

Britton-Harr, who is facing at least one federal investigation for Medicare fraud at a company he previously ran and who was replaced by Hopes in July, did not respond to several requests on his cell phone for comment.

His public reappearance Oct. 31 caps of a 16-day period that even by AeroVanti standards was head spinning.

It began Oct. 14 when Hopes, who had been on the job for shy of three months, was fired while on a flight home from a trip to Maine. Hopes was replaced by Todd Britton-Harr.

Todd's tenure lasted three days.

In a text exchange with the Business Observer Oct. 31, Todd Britton-Harr says he resigned Oct. 17 after learning that the company had been hit with a default judgement and learning that $25 million in investment funding had been rescinded.

The defaults judgement for $750,000 was issued Oct. 16.

At least a half dozen other state and federal lawsuits have been filed against the company nationwide, but because court records take some time to update it is unclear if there are any more judgements. But some people in and around the company believe if more judgements haven’t been placed by now, they will be soon.

The company’s legal troubles are not new — and not likely to go away anytime soon. Several of the lawsuits claim AeroVanti sold $150,000 memberships for planes that had been repossessed and that it sold memberships knowing planes weren’t available. One of the plaintiff’s attorneys went so far as to say the company’s membership plan “has all the hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme.

AeroVanti has also faced allegations its fleet had been grounded while it poured money into pro sports and other sponsorships. And there have been questions about the veracity of claims it raised $100 million from investors.



Shortly before Patrick Britton-Harr resigned as CEO and chairman in July, the U.S. Department of Justice, through the FBI’s Baltimore field office, filed a civil complaint 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.”

The Justice Department and FBI in the complaint say he moved the proceeds from the alleged fraud to other companies he owned after leaving the medical field. Officials also allege “Britton-Harr then used some of the proceeds of this fraudulent scheme to lease or purchase various aircrafts, and he then founded a new company called AeroVanti that provides private charter airplane service.”

A Justice Department spokesperson says that per its policy “we are unable to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation unless, or until, and individual or entity is formally charged.”


Hopes dashed

Hopes, the former county administrator and school board member, replaced Britton-Harr as CEO and chairman July 25. In an interview with the Business Observer Hopes says he went into the job fully cognizant of where the company stood and shortly after taking over laid out a plan to turn AeroVanti around using a $2 million bridge loan provided by Todd Britton-Harr.

But he was fired Oct. 14.

In an Oct. 21 email to the Business Observer, Todd Britton-Harr wrote that Hopes was let go “because he was not able to bring in funding and did not have a plan to pay back my $2 million bridge loan.”

“I repeatedly asked Scott Hopes and corporate legal representation for a written loan agreement and proof of funding and I was continually told it was coming,” Todd Britton-Harr wrote. “Nothing was ever produced and furthermore he entered into settlements without the ability to pay.”

At some point during the entire episode, the company believed it was going to get a $25 million investment. But that fell through, which Todd Britton-Harr blames Hopes for in the email.

Hopes denies the allegation and says the company was in total disarray, something he says Todd Britton-Harr learned on taking over — and the reason he only lasted three days on the job.

“They all thought that they were coming into something that was grandiose and they discovered it wasn't,” Hopes says.

As AeroVanti begins yet another new era, the obvious goal is to turn the business around. Patrick Britton-Harr, in the email, says the “new advisory and executive team” will do just that, and that it is “committed to correcting the internal issues, operational issues and shortcomings.”

Whether this new plan — as opposed to all the others — is the one that works won’t be known for some time. The reality is that there are still many legal troubles — some known to the public and some not. And, based on past interviews and multiple Facebook posts in the private group called AeroVanti Member Forum, many customers who paid to join the club remain angry, which may be the biggest obstacle of all.

That’s because even as he’s looking to sell customers on the idea that the company is bouncing back, hope — and wishful thinking — may be contradicted by reality.

While Patrick Britton-Harr waxes on about all the opportunities members will have, and the fees they’ll have to pay, the email says there aren’t enough aircrafts go around. Anyone wanting to fly on an AeroVanti jet will have make a request 48 hours in advance and usage will be first-come, first served.

“This restriction is subject to adjustment as more aircrafts become available,” Britton-Harr writes.

 

author

Louis Llovio

Louis Llovio is the deputy managing editor at the Business Observer. Before going to work at the Observer, the longtime business writer worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Maryland Daily Record and for the Baltimore Sun Media Group. He lives in Tampa.

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