Santa Barbara’s Spitfire Aviation flight school could be in trouble because of an insurance fraud case involving several employees and owner/operator Andrea Read, who all pleaded guilty or no contest to misdemeanor charges related to the scheme.
Prosecutors couldn’t say whether the case would jeopardize Read’s pilot licenses needed to operate her 15-year-old business out of the Santa Barbara Airport.
Because of the proceedings, however, Read is not allowed to contact — or, essentially, to work with — three employees named as fellow conspirators.
The charges stem from a false insurance claim made in the summer of 2009, according to a complaint filed by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.
Besides Read, two other employees — Spitfire maintenance supervisor Glenn Fuller and renter-pilot Anita Rodriguez — were also charged with three felony counts of insurance fraud and one felony count conspiracy to commit a crime. Spitfire mechanic Christopher Forester also faced two felony counts of insurance fraud.
The three employees took plea deals last year, but Read didn’t formally plead no contest to a misdemeanor charge of being an accessory after the fact until late April — not an admission of guilt but a move made to avoid a jury trial, according to her defense attorney, Doug Hayes.
Read faces three years of probation, a $1,175 fine and cannot contact or harass any of the co-defendants, said Deputy District Attorney Gary Gemberling, who prosecuted the case.
Gemberling said the misdemeanor was considered a “crime of moral turpitude,” although Hayes disagreed.
In an arrest warrant, prosecutors allege Rodriguez was flying a Cessna 172 rented from Spitfire when she had a hard landing at Page Airport in Arizona on July 1, later learning the impact caused more than $40,000 of internal damage.
Rodriguez told investigators she didn’t have renter’s insurance, and was never told to obtain any.
Read, who did have a Spitfire insurance policy, allegedly intimidated Rodriguez into buying her own $50,000 liability policy, which she did, the report said.
A former Spitfire mechanic tipped off the insurance company to possible fraud in October 2009 before any funds were issued, and an investigation ensued.
Rodriquez, Fuller and Forester cooperated with authorities, pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges of disturbing the peace (Rodriguez) or giving false information to a police office — receiving probation and standards fines, Gemberling said.
Speaking for Read, Hayes said Spitfire Aviation should not be affected, since a no-contest plea to a misdemeanor charge cannot be used against her in any way.
He said the other defendants made Read a scapegoat for unknown reasons.
“They decided she was the mastermind in all this,” Hayes said. “We decided there’s no reason to gamble.”
Rodriguez was clearly the person pulling strings, he said.
“She was the one that crashed the plane,” he said. “She’s the one who took out the insurance policy after the fact. Andrea Read had nothing to do with it, other than that she was an employee.”