Charter firm rebuilds in wake of fraud charges

 - March 28, 2007, 12:29 PM

In what is being described as the largest money-laundering investigation in Alaska’s history, Mark Avery, the former owner of Anchorage-based air charter and medevac operator Security Aviation, has pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $52 million from a charity organization. Avery, a trustee and lawyer for the May and Stanley Smith Charitable Trust, pleaded guilty on March 6 to five counts of wire fraud and 10 counts of money laundering.

According to the U.S. district attorney’s office, in 2005 Avery became interested in obtaining a U.S. government contract that would have involved the purchase and financing of several executive jets. Authorities say Avery arranged for a $52 million loan–using the Trust funds as collateral–which he then used instead for personal purchases, including P-51 Mustang and F4U Corsair warbirds, a 47-foot yacht and a recreational vehicle, among other items.

The U.S. district attorney’s office says the loan was made without any control over how the money would be spent, no timetable for repayment of principal or any written business plan. In addition to returning the $52 million, Avery also faces fines and a prison term of up to 17-and-a-half years.

Avery filed for bankruptcy last year, and as part of his assets he was asked to relinquish all of his shares of Security Aviation. The company continues to operate as a Part 135 charter and medevac operator under the leadership of Joe Kapper, son of company founder Mike O’Neill, who ran it until his death in 2002. Kapper took over after Avery left the company a little more than a year after he purchased it.

According to Kapper, the company is returning to the core of what it was before Avery’s 2005 purchase, while attempting to fix any lingering image problems. “We are trying to separate ourselves from prior affiliation and get this [company] back on track from a perception standpoint,” Kapper said. Security Aviation says it operates several charters a day and flies an average of 200 medevac hours per month with
its Cessna Citation and Conquest and Piper Navajo.