Saturday, August 04, 2012

Rockwell Sabreliner, N69WU: Jet blocked from leaving airport until fees paid: Hazleton Municipal (KHZL), Pennsylvania

Hazleton officials will not allow a luxury jet formerly owned by Drums attorney Robert J. Powell to leave the city airport until $625 in aircraft parking fees are paid. 

Stephen Simchak, Hazleton Municipal Airport manager, said Friday that he ordered airport workers to park fuel trucks so as to block the twin-engine Rockwell Sabreliner jet from moving. They'll stay there until the jet's owner pays five months of unpaid parking fees, Simchak said.

According to Federal Aviation Administration records, Powell purchased the jet in 2005 for $2.6 million through 40 Degrees North LLC, a corporation he formed in 2005 with former Hazleton Mayor Michael Marsicano. FAA records indicate that 40 Degrees North still owns the jet, and the corporation's address is listed as 10 Fox Run Road, Drums - the address of the Powell law firm.

In an attempt to collect the delinquent fees, Simchak said he called the firm but "they told me Powell has had nothing to do with that plane for two or three years."

Powell agreed to forfeit his interest in the aircraft as part of his plea agreement in federal court in connection with $2.8 million in illegal payments he directed to two former Luzerne County judges who placed juveniles in his detention centers. He is currently serving an 18-month prison sentence.

Simchak said the jet has been parked at the Hazleton airport since October. When the plane arrived at the airport last fall, 40 Degrees North paid six months of "tie-down," or airport parking, fees in advance, he said. The airport's monthly tie-down fee is $125.

Since March, however, no one has paid for the luxury aircraft to be parked at the airport, Simchak said.

"It's been parked in that spot near the runway for months. It hasn't moved," Simchak said of the jet, which sits on the airport flight line next to a taxi lane that connects to the runway.

This week, two men from an aircraft-refurbishing company in St. Louis, Mo., arrived at the city airport with documents indicating they were hired to fly the jet from Hazleton to St. Louis, where it is scheduled to be refurbished, Simchak said.

Simchak said he told the jockey pilots that the jet could not leave the city airport until the delinquent tie-down fees are paid.

According to Simchak, the documents indicated that Mark Zappala of Pittsburgh hired the pilots and made a $35,000 deposit to have the jet refurbished.

Mark Zappala could not be reached for comment Friday night. It was unclear if he is related to Greg Zappala, a Pittsburgh-area developer behind Gladstone Partners, which proposes to build a massive cargo airport straddling the Luzerne/Schuylkill County line near Interstate 81. Powell was, and Marsicano remains, a principal in Gladstone Partners.

Simchak said he called the Pittsburgh address listed on the documents in an attempt to collect the delinquent fees before the jet left for St. Louis, but never heard from Mark Zappala.

"He's not calling me back," Simchak said.

Concerned that the city could not collect the delinquent fees if the aircraft leaves the Hazleton airport, Simchak said he consulted city engineer Dominic Yanuzzi for advice.

"We feel, once (the jet) is moved, we will never see (payment of the delinquent fees). So, let's block it in," Simchak said. "They'd be pretty dumb to start up a jet engine with a fuel truck parked that close."

Hazleton Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi said he supports Simchak's action.

"My only concern is that the tie-down fees are paid," the mayor said.

"It's only 625 bucks," Simchak said. "If you own a jet that costs $2.6 million, I think you can pay $625 in tie-down fees."

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