WAMC News has learned that controversial business owner Alex Kelly — who operates Berkshire Skydiving out of the publicly-owned North Adams Airport — had his lease with Bennington Airport terminated by the state of Vermont in September over safety violations.
Kelly made headlines in the 80s and 90s as “the preppy rapist” when he fled sexual assault charges for almost a decade in Europe. He eventually returned to the U.S., was sentenced to 17 years in prison, and was paroled in 2007.
In recent months, the registered sex offender has provoked dismay among some North Adams residents for running Berkshire Skydiving out of a space leased from the city at the Harriman-and-West Airport. Until recently, he also ran Green Mountain Skydiving at Bennington Airport for the past several years — where, unlike North Adams, his lease was with the State of Vermont.
“I wouldn’t say that he was on the end of the spectrum of the easiest tenant to deal with, but I wouldn’t say he was the most challenging.”
Trini Brassard is assistant director of policy planning and intermodal development with the Vermont Agency of Transportation. She tells WAMC that Kelly’s lease with the state was terminated in late September over multiple safety violations of state and federal regulations.
“We received some complaints and we looked into them, and looking into them we found that they were serious,” Brassard said.
Brassard said Kelly’s business had violated safety regulations pertaining to landing zones at the airport, as well as Federal Aviation Administration regulations requiring people have proper training or escorts when they are around aircraft within the secured area. There were also FAA violations around unsupervised persons in areas that require that same training, and vehicle operation at the airport.
“If you’re going to be operating a vehicle on the airport, there’s more training that you need to go through because you don’t want to pull out on a runway in front of a plane or do anything that puts anybody at risk," she told WAMC. "And we had violations of those items also."
Brassard said complaints about Kelly’s operation of Green Mountain Skydiving came from both customers and other business owners at the airport. She said the evidence to support the claims was hidden in plain sight.
“We were told that the best way for us to understand what was really going on was to go onto YouTube and look at the videos that were posted,” she told WAMC.
Brassard said the state found enough evidence of safety violations in footage of how Kelly ran the business to sever its relationship with Green Mountain Skydiving.
Neither the website nor the Facebook page for Green Mountain Skydiving acknowledges that the business’s lease was terminated. The business’s voicemail suggests a different reason for the closure, and goes as far as to suggest it will reopen in 2019.
“Hey, this is Alex from Green Mountain Skydiving and Taconic Aviation," says Kelly in the message. "Our skydiving season is come to an end this year, but we’ll be back jumping in the spring, in the middle of April. Flight instruction continues throughout the year, but if you have questions about either or, give us a call any time, we’ll get right back to you. Thanks a lot, have a great day.”
Michael Canales, the Administrative Officer of North Adams, told WAMC he learned of Kelly’s termination in Bennington in the first week of October. Canales says the city had not been contacted by Vermont and had registered no safety issues with Kelly to date. North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard declined an interview request from WAMC, saying he had “nothing to add to the comment Mr. Canales provided on this matter.”
Kelly’s contract to use the Shamrock Hangar at the Harriman-and-West Airport runs on a monthly basis and includes a termination clause that allows the city to end his lease for any reason at any time.
Kelly declined to speak on tape, but told WAMC he never got “a single warning of any violations” from the state of Vermont and said there were no accidents or injuries during his time operating out of Bennington Airport. He said the state was well aware of his activities, and that he plans to pursue legal action against Vermont.
In response, Brassard told WAMC that “Mr. Kelly was approached by VTrans staff about the concerns, but there is no requirement for warnings or notice given the high risk of the business and need for focus on safety.”