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AeroVanti founder's brother says life, finances in tatters from company collapse

After futile efforts to help his brother's floundering private air service company, debts and pressure mount for Todd Britton-Harr.

  • By Louis Llovio
  • | 5:00 a.m. May 24, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Todd Britton-Harr is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the owner of the Tampa construction company Britton-Harr Contracting.
Todd Britton-Harr is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the owner of the Tampa construction company Britton-Harr Contracting.
Photo by Mark Wemple
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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Sitting at his desk in his home office in Tampa, memorabilia from his time at the U.S. Naval Academy surrounding him, Todd Britton-Hart can’t help but bemoan what went wrong.

He’s not bitter, at least he doesn’t present himself as such. But if he was, one would be hard pressed to blame him.

Britton-Harr, 47, is the founder and owner of a Tampa construction company that’s been in business for about 17 years, with revenue averaging between $8 million and $12 million per year.

He has twins, Alyssa and Tristan, who attend the University of Florida, and a toddler at home, Makenna, who will be three in July. He and his wife, Shannon, married in 2018 after reconnecting at a Naval Academy football game the year before.

By all appearance, Britton-Harr has it pretty good.

But things aren’t good. Not by a longshot, he says.

Todd Britton-Harr is the older brother of Patrick Britton-Harr, founder of Sarasota private air service company AeroVanti. The company, notably, is being sued by numerous customers, vendors and employees accusing it of blowing millions of dollars and, in some cases, outright fraud.

As Patrick’s older brother, Todd Britton-Harr stepped in to help about a year ago. But that mission ended poorly. 

Now Todd's reputation is tarnished, his business is in trouble, he’s paying tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills and is being sued by a former friend. And he’s lost $1.45 million worth of property he put up in collateral.

Worse, his marriage is in trouble and the once solid foundation he’d built for himself and his family is teetering.

Shannon, in a late night text to the Business Observer, wrote “It has been the worst year of my life. And that is coming from a woman who deployed after 9/11.

“Now I don't know when or where the threats are coming from; especially, as a woman who does not leave her home as a 100% disabled veteran.”

Todd Britton-Harr sat down with the Business Observer last week for an extensive — and candid — interview about his time at the company and the aftermath. The conversation focused mostly on what happened and his views of his brother, former CEO Scott Hopes and how he is dealing with it all today.

Todd Britton-Harr is speaking publicly, he says, to try to clear his name. He also provided the Business Observer a copy of a demand letter written to AeroVanti, Hopes and investors and four signed affidavits accusing Hopes of malfeasance during his tenure as CEO.

Neither Patrick Britton-Harr nor Hopes responded to a request for comment for this story. Patrick Britton-Harr hasn't responded to multiple requests for comment going back months. 

“The problem that you have is, it wasn't a business decision,” Britton-Harr says.

“What I did was, I stepped up to do what was supposed to be the right thing. Remember, I did not have shares, I didn't own anything. I hoped AeroVanti would become a success and, maybe, I could, you know, enjoy that in the future. But I didn't have anything to gain from it immediately.”

Brother's keeper

Todd Britton-Harr grew up in the Tampa Bay area, spending time in Bradenton, Anna Maria, St. Petersburg and Tampa before moving to Jacksonville for middle school and later Orlando. The reason for so many moves, he says, is his father was a pilot, a captain in the airline industry, and a Navy reservist.

After high school, he went to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, graduating in 2000.

He remained in the Navy until August 2005, moving to Pensacola after being released from active duty and getting into real estate.

He chose Pensacola because he had been stationed there for a year after graduation and had bought condos in Perdido Key. Shortly before he returned, Hurricane Ivan hit and damaged the properties.

“You have to have a contractor’s license to make repairs to condominiums and my condos were sitting, gutted, as the (homeowners association) was fighting with insurance (companies),” he says.

Todd Britton-Harr is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the owner of the Tampa construction company, Britton-Harr Contracting.
Photo by Mark Wemple

So, in 2006 he started Britton-Harr Contracting, the company he still operates today, and began repairing hurricane damaged homes and, eventually, constructing new ones.

There is a part of Britton-Harr’s life story that is left out in the telling, though.

And that is that in 2012 he was sentenced to four years in federal prison after being convicted of making false statements on loan and mortgage documents, according to the United States Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Florida and the FBI. 

At the time, he was being held on federal drug trafficking charges in Texas. According to the FBI statement, he had been indicted “for possessing with intent to distribute more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana.”

Federal court records show he plead guilty June 19, 2013 to one count of possession with intent to distribute 465.96 kilograms of marijuana. He was sentenced to serve 70 months.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website Britton-Harr was released from prison in 2017.

While Britton-Harr doesn’t address this part of the story, and questions why it even comes up in previous media coverage, it is pertinent because detractors have used his past when discussing his role in the AeroVanti case.

Hopes, in an interview last year, went so far as to warn the Business Observer to “be very careful about what you print with regards to Mr. Patrick Harr and Mr. Todd Harr.”

(Hopes, a former Manatee County administrator and elected school board member, was indicted in February for notary fraud, a third-degree felony; grand theft, a third-degree felony; and fraudulent use of public record, a third-degree felony. The charges stem from his tenure with the county.)

As for Todd Britton-Harr, he may not broach the subject of his past, but he doesn’t shy away, either, when asked about it. His public relations representative, who sat in on the interview, however, did attempt to change the subject, interrupting to steer the conversation in another direction.

“Despite what's reported, I am still fighting legally, and in the public opinion, to get the truth out there and restore my innocence,” he says, adding he is writing a book.

Britton-Harr moved back to Tampa in 2018 and since then, the focus has been on building up Britton-Harr Contracting.

The company is currently working on a 10-unit townhouse project near Raymond James Stadium and developing a new townhouse project off of Bayshore Boulevard. “If I didn't have the AeroVanti bills, I'd been doing very well,” Britton-Harr says.

“My business, every business, has suffered downs, right? I was prepared for that. I was not prepared for the AeroVanti portion of that.”

A helping hand

Todd Britton-Harr’s problems started about a year ago.

According to his telling, in May of last year Patrick invited him and Shannon to attend the Coca Cola 600 NASCAR race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Part of AeroVanti’s strategy to drum up business was to buy sponsorships at major sporting events nationwide. In fact, many of the accusations made against the company in lawsuits allege most of the incoming funds went to those sponsorships rather than airplanes and airplane maintenance.

As part of that strategy, the company had sponsored a car, No. 7, running in the race.

The first time Todd Britton-Harr realized that his brother's company may be in trouble was at the Coca Cola 600 NASCAR race in 2023.
Image via AeroVanti Air Club / Facebook

It was Memorial Day weekend and the team was running the race in honor of a former Navy Seal Shannon had gone to the Naval Academy with. 

“That was the first time we ever saw trouble,” Britton-Harr says. “Once we got there, we ended up having to pay for fuel and for the hotel and had to put up the Seals (who’d made the trip) in the Ritz Carlton using our points.”

Before that, Britton-Harr says, he believed what most people believed: everything with AeroVanti was going great, that this may be one of the next great companies in the area.

He even attended the Business Observer’s 2022 40 Under 40 event where Patrick was one of the honorees

As far as Todd was concerned, Patrick “was crushing it.” 

“So much so that my wife is giving me a little bit of a hard time because I’m out here in cargo pants, sweating my butt off building houses and he’s looking like he’s killing it.”

Once in Charlotte for the race, though, a different picture began to emerge after Patrick asked for the help with the bills.

This was about the time word began to come out that there were serious issues with the company and the first lawsuit was filed.

The allegations that would eventually envelop the company were that AeroVanti had failed to fulfill its promises and money meant for airplanes and other services never materialized. The list of those coming after it included unpaid vendors, unpaid airplane owners and customers who paid $150,000 for memberships for planes that had been repossessed.

And if grounded and repossessed planes weren’t enough, federal prosecutors would soon allege Patrick used proceeds from a scheme to defraud Medicare to start the company.

But Todd, like most of the public and many inside the company, says he did not know any of that yet.

What he remembers is being told that Patrick needed help because “some kind airplane transaction didn’t occur.”

He had no shares or ownership stake but stepped in to help his brother and the company, fully expecting to be paid back. Starting May 29, 2023, he and Shannon paid for AeroVanti’s aviation fuel bills with their American Express card.

Britton-Harr lays out all that happened next in a May 17 demand letter and in the interview:

Soon after stepping in, a $500,000 short-term loan was issued to Patrick. it was backed by AeroVanti assets and a lot owned by Britton-Harr Contracting. The loan was funded June 13 and used to pay AeroVanti liabilities, including payroll.

Not long after, Patrick raised funds to pay off the loan.

Meanwhile, a meeting had been called by Network 1 Financial Securities, which a year earlier held a $9.75 million Series A fundraising round for AeroVanti. The investment firm wanted to discuss the status of the company and to develop a plan to “correct the insolvent financial position of AeroVanti.”

The result of the meeting in New Jersey was Patrick would step down as CEO and chairman and sign a separation agreement. Hopes, with a background in aviation, would become CEO and chairman.

Patrick and Todd would then secure a $2 million bridge loan for AeroVanit using combined collateral. In the meantime, Network 1 would raise $10 million in funds using AeroVanti assets in the next six to eight weeks to, in part, repay the bridge loan.

Patrick put up his 108-foot yacht named the Casino Royale and Todd put up three Britton-Hall Contracting-owned lots for collateral for the bridge loan. 

The 108-foot yacht Casino Royale was put up as collateral to finance a $2 million bridge loan that eventually defaulted.
Image via AeroVanti Air Club / Facebook

A company attorney was then tasked with writing up Patrick’s separation agreement and Hopes' employment agreement. A promissory note for the bridge loan was supposed to be written up as well but was never produced.

Todd was placed in charge of disbursing the loan funds. He paid out a total of $2.75 million to cover AeroVanti’s liabilities.

(The demand letter does not state how the money was spent, but Todd says the funds went toward paying the company’s bills and expenses. That includes covering charter flights with outside companies meant to appease angry customers.)

Throughout this time, Todd and Shannon met with Hopes regularly and were reassured the money to repay the bridge loan was coming. The funds, they were told, would be available after Labor Day, Todd says. 

(Todd claims in the demand letter that he has a spreadsheet detailing that the money from the bridge loan would be exhausted by Sept. 20 and showing where all the money was paid.)

But the funding never materialized, and on Oct. 14 Hopes was fired as CEO of AeroVanti.

Todd took over as CEO — a tenure thaf lasted three days. He resigned, he says, after learning money meant to pay for legal expenses had not been paid out and that default judgements had been issued after the company failed to put up a defense. He also learned that an offer for investment funding was rescinded.

The company was again insolvent. The bridge loan could not be repaid.

Patrick took over as CEO and chairman again and signed a promissory note agreeing to pay Britton-Harr Contracting back for the bridge loan. 

But it defaulted on that as well.

Todd says as a result of the default, his company has lost the three lots valued at $1.45 million. He’s also spent tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees fighting to get the lots back and to protect his home.

This, he says, has meant tapping into personal and business reserves to survive.

And he is no longer in possession of the Casino Royale — which is inoperable and stuck in Baltimore.

Britton-Harr asks in the demand letter that the loan default be remedied as well as the expenses he and his company have accrued be paid.

In the letter, he says neither he nor Shannon would have signed for the loan to keep AeroVanti operating if it hadn’t been for the agreement, and the continued reassurances, that the $10 million in financing would come through.

Good deed punished

As much of the talk focuses on the financial strain, this story is personal as well.

Britton-Harr — who sees himself as much of a victim as all the others who are suing — not only lost money, but lost it at his brother’s hands.

Yet, despite this, he continues to defend Patrick as someone who made one bad business decision after another in an effort to save his dream. 

“I have always been very close with my brother,” he says. “We have always helped each other out.”

Shannon, though, is not so magnanimous. She is fiercely defensive of her husband who, she believes, was taken advantage of by his brother and others and who’s reputation is being unfairly tarnished.

She did not join Todd in the interview, but in a pair of text messages two days later she made it clear how she feels and the toll the AeroVanti ordeal has taken on the family.

She calls Todd the “definition of a gentleman warrior” who “has again fallen victim to people doing what is not right.”

“Given what my husband has gone through, his pain threshold is significantly higher than the average person's,” she writes, adding he is “extremely resilient.”

“It is soul-crushing for me to have to fight for our name at home,” she writes. "These individuals threatening our family, home, and livelihood have made us question humanity and the cost of what is doing right.”



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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