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TurboProp Owner Pulls Donation Over 'Turmoil' at North Adams Airport
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
08:59PM / Thursday, June 21, 2018
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The airport's largest business is threatening to pull funding for a planned administrative building and file suit against the city over "turmoil" caused by convicted rapist Alex Kelly.
 
In a letter sent to the Airport Commission, Harry S. Patten Jr., owner of Turboprop East, expressed frustration that the fuel-farm lease for his company still had not been signed because the commission was "embroiled with an individual of dubious character and this is preventing them from properly functioning."
 
"Due to this turmoil, I am withdrawing my donation to fund the new FBO," he wrote. "Furthermore, if the Commission cannot perform its duties to control and regulate the airport, I will bring suit against the city of North Adams and members of the Airport Commission personally."
 
Patten had pledged $200,000 toward the construction of fixed-base operator, or administrative building, two years ago.
 
He calls in his letter for the city to appoint a new commission that can act professionally. 
 
"The management by an inept Commission will damage the airport and my business at TurboProp," Patten writes.
 
The letter was received by the commission the same day it approved a lease for office space for Kelly's Taconic Aviation flight school and Berkshire Skydiving companies. Commissioners had put Kelly off for months on a decision, saying they were reviewing and updating leasing contracts. 
 
Kelly had already been approved for operating his skydiving school at Harriman & West Airport. 
 
Mayor Thomas Bernard on Thursday said he had received a copy of the letter and reached out to Patten to meet with him. 
 
"He's indicated he's willing to meet," Bernard said. "My office has reached out to his office."
 
Kelly, also known as the "preppy rapist," was charged with two rapes in Connecticut while in high school. He fled before his trial began and spent nearly a decade evading authorities in Europe before finally surrendering and being convicted in 1997. He was sentenced to 16 years but released in 2007 on good behavior.
 
Independently wealthy, he learned how to skydive after being released and become involved with club in Connecticut but was asked to leave after several alleged incidents that involved threats or violence. He later opened his own school in Bennington, Vt., with apparently no issues and purchased TeamFlys, which is based at the North Adams airport. Kelly's attempts to purchase TeamFlys and open at Harriman & West were delayed for months and he accused the commissioners of stalling. 
 
On Tuesday, the commission said its decision to lease the hangar office space was based on the fact that Kelly's operation seemed more viable than a club that also applied to lease the space. That vote was met by vocal opposition from a number of residents who attended the meeting. 
 
The Federal Aviation Authority does not have restrictions against those with criminal pasts with the exceptions of substance abuse, at least for the type of flying for which Kelly is certified. 
 
Bernard said these decisions come under the Airport Commission's purview but thought it would be difficult to deny an application if it conformed to allowable use. 
 
"I know that the airport has gotten advice through the FAA of what they can and can't consider," he said. He also confirmed his office has gotten some comments on Kelly's presence at the airport. 
 
He declined to speculate on the possibility that denying Kelly space to operate would somehow endanger FAA funding. The airport has received nearly $30 million over the past two decades. "I don't have the information to comment on that right now," the mayor said.
 
Turboprop East, established in 1968, is a major Northeast maintenance facility for several lines of aircraft. The Patten Family Companies purchased the Turboprop in 1995.
 
The federal and state matching funds for the $4 million administrative building never came through and the city is planning to move a nearby former doctor's building donated by Berkshire Health Systems. Bernard said there are no immediate plans for that move but it is on the city's list of projects. Patten's donation, so far, is still just a pledge. 
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