A business owner who received international infamy for two sexual assaults in the 1980s has brought his skydiving company to North Adams, Massachusetts.
Alex Kelly’s skydiving business and how it relates to a small airport in the northern Berkshires is a complicated story. It involves a criminal past, local government bureaucracy, and whispered concerns.
Kelly, now 51, was dubbed “The Preppy Rapist” by the press after being convicted of two sexual assaults in Darien, Connecticut, which occurred in 1986. Before his trial in 1987, he fled to Europe, spending seven years living as a fugitive, funded by his parents. In 1994, law enforcement officials found evidence of his parents’ support in their home, leading to Kelly’s extradition from Switzerland in 1995. The first of two trials ended in a mistrial, but the second saw him sentenced to 17 years in prison. After an unsuccessful parole effort in 2005, Kelly was released in 2007. His decade-long probation ended last year.
A 2017 Vanity Fair Confidential episode about Kelly entitled “The Fugitive Son” alleged that four other teenagers accused him of sexual assault after his flight to Europe.
Kelly is now a skydiving instructor who owns and operates Green Mountain Skydiving in Bennington, Vermont — and now, Berkshire Skydiving, based out of the Harriman-and-West Airport in North Adams. Multiple calls to the William H. Morse State Airport in Bennington went unanswered. People involved in Bennington’s airport community declined to comment when reached by WAMC. Kelly’s experience in the field began quickly after his release, in Connecticut.
Journalist Keli Goff wrote a 2015 article for the Daily Beast that expressed her surprise at realizing that she had unknowingly patronized a business where Kelly was employed: Connecticut Parachutists. Kelly began working there in 2008, and rose through the ranks to the position of drop zone manager, in charge of running the business.
Goff provided a written statement to WAMC:
“Now there are those who would say he’s served his time and should be free to live life on his terms. And I can certainly respect that perspective. But I would ask those same people if they would feel comfortable with Harvey Weinsten being left in a small enclosed space with their mothers, daughters, sisters and wives – or worse being asked to strap their bodies to his. If the answer is no, then I would ask why should an actual convicted rapist be empowered to launch a business that will rely on him being in such intimate proximity to potential victims? The fact that Mr. Kelly doesn’t see why this might be troubling to the general public either indicates a measure of tone deafness on his part that is disappointing, or a lack of empathy for his victims and other women in the age of #MeToo, that is deeply disturbing."
According to a 2015 Associated Press article, Kelly eventually left Connecticut Parachutists due to erratic behavior that involved punching one skydiver for touching his equipment and groping a male skydiver’s genitals. Labor Department documents obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information request showed that Kelly had also threatened a pilot with bodily harm in an argument over use of an aircraft.
That same 2015 Associated Press article quotes Kelly’s skydiving teacher and co-worker Hollie Reno as saying that “lots of people have been to jail; lots of people have done bad things. Today, if they’re different, I evaluate them as they are. But, he has no regard for anyone else.”
Dr. Neil Malamuth is a professor of psychology and communication at UCLA. He studies sexual assault, specifically the characteristics of men in the general population that makes them at greater risk for committing the act. His comments for this story reflect his broader research, not specifically the case of Alex Kelly.
“Unfortunately the data don’t support the efficacy of rehabilitation efforts and interventions in general," Malamuth told WAMC. "There is of course constant attempts to improve upon them, but from what we know at this point, we would not be very optimistic about the effectiveness about such rehabilitation.”
He says that while the likelihood of rapists repeating their exact crimes is statistically low, those who commit acts of sexual assault have established the potential for other abusive behaviors.
“There certainly seems to be a correlation and also common underlying causes to various acts of what we might call sexual misbehavior as well as other kinds of violent acts," said Malamuth. "There clearly are common elements that make a person who has committed an act of sexual assault more at risk for committing other kinds of violent and nonviolent acts.”
Kelly’s interest in using North Adams’ airport — which is public property — began formally on January 16th this year when he attended an Airport Commission meeting at which he professed his interest in renting space at the facility. The space in question is an office and classroom in the Shamrock Hanger, which the city purchased in 2017. The building went through federally-funded renovations after North Adams acquired it.
But Kelly’s involvement with the airport goes back to at least 2016, when he began reaching out to members of North Adams’ airport community about expanding his business there. In December 2017, Kelly bought the assets of a now closed North Adams company — Teamflys — that had used space at the airport. Despite the fact that the company he purchased had used the space, Kelly was still required by the Airport Commission to submit a proposal alongside two other groups competing to use it.
The Airport Commission is appointed by the mayor of North Adams, and it is the group that determines who rents space on the facility’s campus. North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard, who appointed two of the commission’s five members, declined to comment for this story.
“They’ve requested that they submit what aviation use it’s going to support and then what the area will be used for specifically, is it a classroom, is it an office, what are they using it for, and why it’s in the best interest for the airport," said Michael Canales, the Chief Administrative Officer of North Adams. He is the top city official involved in managing the airport. He confirmed to WAMC that citizens have approached the city about Kelly’s past.
“That information as far as through the FAA is not something that we are able to use in our determination of his business," said Canales. "He has the proper licenses to run a skydiving operation.”
Canales was asked by WAMC if the city was aware of Kelly’s reported behavior in the years following his release from prison.
“As far as renting a hangar, it’s whether he has — or running his operation at the airport, it depends on if he has the FAA licenses, which he does, and I’m not aware of any other issues with Mr. Kelly,” said Canales.
At the commission’s March 20th meeting, Chairman Armand Boillat informed Kelly that the FAA would have to review his drop zone.
“That was purely made up by the airport managers in an attempt to keep me out of there," Alex Kelly told WAMC. “There is no such thing as a requirement for FAA — they cited some document for new runways or airport construction. I’ve run drop zones, a number of drop zones — I’ve jumped drop zones all over the country. There is absolutely zero need for what they were saying was needed.”
When asked if he felt that any resistance to his presence came from his violent history, Kelly told WAMC that “people can always use that as a tool to try to condemn me whenever they want. It’s really not pertinent to this. If they want to continue to bring that up, I’ve done my time. I don’t know what they want from me, what I am supposed to do, go climb under a rock? I mean, I’m an upstanding businessman, law-abiding citizen, doing what I can to increase economic activity, live my life, and even hire people.”
Kelly’s interactions with the commission have been charged. An iBerkshires.com story quoted Kelly as referring to the commission as “obstructionist and discriminatory” at its May 15th meeting, and as far back as January 5th, Kelly published an open letter to the Airport Commission and the state police on social media accusing the city of “extensive fraud, corruption and criminal behavior” over the course of his time at the airport. Kelly provided the full text of the letter to WAMC, and it can be read below.
At the committee’s May 15th meeting, Kelly was granted temporary permission to use the space until June 30th. The committee will determine the space’s long-term use June 19th.
Multiple members of the North Adams community — including a city employee — have anonymously registered concerns about Kelly’s behavior over the past six months to WAMC. When WAMC News contacted Kelly a second time with more questions, he declined to speak on tape.
Kelly, who lives in Bennington, Vermont, is listed in the Connecticut sex offender registry as a condition of his release for good behavior.
“We are aware of Mr. Kelly and his past," said Michael Cozzaglio, Director of the North Adams Police Department.
“We have been in contact with the sex offender registry board here in the state Massachusetts," he told WAMC. "We are moving forward with our process of notification and registration with Mr. Kelly. Once we do determine that this party is actually present here in North Adams and has an operating working business, we will be sure to contact him and have him come to North Adams Police Department and register in accordance with the law.”
Kelly did not inform the North Adams Police Department about his presence in the city.
“We have had no communication with Mr. Kelly," said Cozzaglio. "We have reached out to a neighboring community in this matter, we have reached out to the sex offender registry board, we are aware of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Kelly’s past. We feel that we should have no issue from our end reaching out to Mr. Kelly and that he would be in compliance of the law and take care of what needs to be done.”
The state’s official website says sex offenders working in Massachusetts must register with the state within two days of starting their job. WAMC has officially filed a request for sex offender registry information with the state of Massachusetts about Kelly.
Berkshire Skydiving is currently open and operating at the North Adams Airport.
Alex Kelly's Letter:
January 5, 2018
To Whom It May Concern,
My name is Alex Kelly and I own two aviation related businesses in Bennington Vermont. I came to the Harriman and West Airport to open a second skydiving business as well as a second flight school, scenic flight, plane rental and tow plane operation. I initially had no intention of coming to North Adams, however, my home base in Bennington is closing this coming summer for runway reconstruction. As a result, I needed a place to operate and saw this as an opportunity to expand. I’ve had aircraft maintenance done in North Adams, but beyond that I had no connection to anyone, no agendas, grudges, or any other motivations beyond starting a business, investing and attracting customers to the airport.
During the short time I’ve been involved at the Airport, with its’ Committee and its’ community, I’ve been exposed to far more than I wanted. However, as an outsider without history at the airport, my experience provides a unique perspective of what’s going on, and at this point I have to put my experience on the record.
My objective was a base to operate my skydiving business while the Bennington Airport is closed. With limited facilities at North Adams, I offered to purchase Teamflys to gain an office and hanger as well as an opportunity to expand my existing flight school. I approached Trevor Gilman, who made it clear he did not own nor work for the school, yet he was the one I should negotiate with. From the beginning it was a strange situation of smoke and mirrors. Trevor was clearly in charge, yet continued to assert his non-affiliation. At each juncture he reminded me he had no ownership interest in the business or it’s assets nor was he employed by the business. That said, he advertised his involvement and influence as a large portion of its value!
Several months back, I asked Trevor Gilman if they’d sell and he said they weren’t interested. Then, suddenly, he contacted me claiming they were willing to sell but it had to close within days. The change of mind was surprising but the rush was a red flag. Mr. Gilman became increasingly frustrated that I wouldn’t give them their asking price on the spot. At that point I said I wasn’t interested in the business but was willing to buy the assets. During one conversation, I asked what justified the premium they wanted. He was clearly agitated when questioned about the value of their “good will” and said, “I am the Good Will!” “I am on the Airport Committee and I know everybody!” I said I wasn’t buying him, but he made it clear his influence was very important one way or the other. During another conversation with Mr. Gilman, he was again angered that I dropped my offer price and was unwilling to close without fulfillment of the promised assets and leases. At that point he stated I should give them what they were asking because he is on the Airport Committee and he has the ability to make things difficult for me. He then reiterated a statement he had made on several occasions, that he is the only one on the Airport Committee that knows anything about aviation and that the committee always deferred to whatever he said. The committee is a rubber stamp to what he wanted because of their ignorance and every success was a result of his efforts and decisions.
Mr. Gilman promised to transfer the Teamfly office and hanger lease as part of the asset purchase. I was told the Airport Committee would do this and Mr. Gilman put in for a special meeting to approve the transfer. In spite of his claim I emailed Mr. Naughton on November 30, the day after my first Airport Committee meeting expressing my desire to be put on the formal agenda for the next airport committee meeting regarding a letter of permission to operate a flight school at the airport. I emailed him again on December 15th to verify I was on the agenda. Mr. Naughton replied on December 16th, ”No you are not on the agenda. I had scheduled a special meeting for this last week and unfortunately had to cancel it. I will schedule a special meeting for this the week of the 25 th. Sorry for the delay.”
I went to the next Airport Committee meeting anyway, my second, and Mr. Gilman was conspicuously absent. Once again, there were a number of complaints regarding conflicts of interest, and the change in the Committee’s tone from the previous meeting was palpable. In light of this change, it appeared the previously discarded assertions had some level of merit. That, and my own experiences with Mr. Gilman, made it impossible to ignore. Ironically, as my suspicions grew I added a clause to the Purchase and Sale Agreement that the sellers would disclose all know issues, investigations, debts., etc. And as I was walking into the Committee meeting that evening, I received a revision from the owner with this clause removed. At that point I wasn’t going to accept any “special meetings” and made it publicly clear on the Airport Committee meeting record that I wanted to be put on the formal agenda for the next meeting regarding permission to operate a flight school at the airport.
After the Airport Committee meeting, I texted Paul Renaud, the owner of Teamflys, stating we should get together. I said I didn’t believe he had any idea of what was going on, or maybe he did after reviewing what he had taken out of the P&S.
We met the next day and Paul told me Trevor Gilman was under investigation for allegedly misusing credit cards or stealing fuel and had been removed from the Airport Committee. Paul’s story was relatively convoluted, but Mr. Gilman had been interviewed by the police and records were copied for investigatory purposes. Mr. Renaud said he was surprised the police had not questioned him, as the owner of the LLC., but Mr. Gilman had been the one running the place while Mr. Renaud was working in Florida. I told him he may have significant liabilities by the sounds of things and let him know it was untenable negotiating with Trevor from that point forward. Mr. Gilman was not only volatile and irrational but wasted most of my time railing against supposed conspirators out to get him. Paul said we would negotiate directly from then on. Paul again clarified that Mr. Gilman had no ownership interest in the business or the assets, he was not an employee and was not affiliated in any way other than as a volunteer.
In spite of these assertions, I remained partially beholden to Mr. Gilman for access and inspections. Mr. Gilman was again extremely frustrated that I wanted to verify and inspect assets. The plane was having its annual inspection done and I wanted the ability to speak with the mechanics doing the job. The maintenance and Inspection was being done in Bill Greenwald’s (the airport manager’s) hanger. When I went to look, it was clear this was not a maintenance hanger, but as my experience at North Adams would indicate, it seemed anyone in power could do whatever they wanted. As I walked in I remembered from the Airport Committee Meeting the discussions regarding leases, operating fees, uniformity and fairness, yet here was the Airport Manager and Airport Committee member participating in exactly what had been talked about.
Trevor Gilman and his pilot Shane were doing much of the work under the supervision of John Werner. It turned out John Werner, the supervising mechanic, was himself being “supervised” by another mechanic who was not present. The “supervising” mechanic’s rating was necessary for the Inspection sign off. I noticed damage to the elevator and mentioned it to John Werner, the “supervised” mechanic. He acknowledged the damage and ultimately repaired the elevator with riveted patches. The repair was no big deal until I inspected the logbooks a couple weeks later. Whatever the reason, they had not entered the elevator repair in the logbook. Not only had they not entered the repair, but they had not balanced the elevator as required following the repair. Whether intentional or oversight, this made the plane un-airworthy and a violation of the FAR’s to operate. Not only do the mechanics have an obligation to verify the airworthiness of an aircraft before signing it off, but the owner and operator had a legal obligation to verify its airworthiness before operating the aircraft. That said, the aircraft was flown on several occasions following the sign off, at least once for hire with a student pilot.
When I inspected the logbooks, I mentioned the repair was not in the logbook. In response, Mr. Gilman contacted the mechanic who said he would add an additional logbook entry after the fact. The mechanic also stated he would have to balance the Elevator before providing the sign off and they would get it done as soon as it was warm enough to return the plane to Bill Greenwald’s hanger where they could do the necessary repair. Paul Renaud was made aware of this as a responsibility to the purchaser.
Significantly, I mentioned my experience to the airport manager, Bill Greenwald, on January 3rd. I then suddenly received an email from him on January 4th with an after the fact sign off from John Werner for the elevator repair and a claim that it now did not need to be manually balanced. I’m not sure how Bill Greenwald became involved in the maintenance beyond providing an unauthorized location for the questionable repairs, but it appears there are suddenly a lot of people involved in clearing this up after the fact. I did not ask Mr. Greenwald to get directly involved in the repair issue: my intention was to make the manager aware of what was going on at the airport. I have still not heard directly from either mechanic regarding how to proceed.
As a quick summary to this point, a member of the North Adams Airport Committee threatened me with his power, saying to give him the price they wanted or he would make it hard on me. The airport manager allowed unsanctioned and illegal maintenance work to be done in his hanger and later tried to cover it up. The “supervising” mechanic signed off John Werner’s work without verifying the required log entries and elevator balancing. All of this not only violated the FAR’s but all of these participating and/or complicit individuals did this for an aircraft they knew was going to be used for flight instruction. Ultimately, they allowed an un-airworthy aircraft to be used for, and sold for, instruction without warning. Significantly, this plane was subsequently flown for instructional purposes. In such, the mechanics, the pilot, the owner and operators violated the FAR’s and they, as well as the complicit airport manager, put the pilot, the student and the general public in danger.
Ultimately, I advised Mr. Gilman that the owner and I were closing the following day. He said he would take the necessary aircraft logbooks, keys, etc. to Paul Renaud so we could close the sale. I met Paul the next day, but Mr. Gilman had kept keys to various assets. At that point I was so sick of the delays that Paul and I closed with the understanding I could pick up my assets as soon as possible. With a signed Bill of Sale, I had the right and permission to get everything from that point forward. I want to reiterate, Paul Renaud, the owner and tenant, gave me permission to enter the offices and take my assets. I will add that Trevor Gilman was not an owner or employee and had no standing in this transaction. He had no right to enter the office, the hanger or any other building, office, trailer or hanger after the closing. He was to provide keys only and advise as to the location of any unaccounted for assets.
Apparently, Mr. Gilman subsequently entered the office without permission or authority and was upset that I had removed assets that I owned. I want to reiterate that Trevor Gilman had absolutely no ownership interest in this business, did not rent the office or hanger, had absolutely no right or “standing” in this. He had every opportunity to remove personal property during the months this deal was negotiated and while he was a volunteer and had lawful access. He was aware of the pending closing, was even told the day before the closing it was going through and made no effort to remove or make claim on anything in any of the offices or trailers. Furthermore, it was neither my obligation to accommodate him after the fact nor did he ask permission to enter the offices and rummage through my assets.
The fact is, Mr. Gilman entered the office without permission or the supervision of anyone. He then apparently made claims that files, that he had no ownership interest in, were taken, moved or missing. I want to reiterate that Mr. Gilman knew the closing was occurring but waited until after the closing to enter the office to rummage around.
On Wednesday, January 3rd, I went to the office to remove my remaining assets. At that point the contractor informed me they were not allowed to let me into the building and that I should go speak with Bill Greenwald. I went to speak with manager (Bill Greenwald) who made his position very clear. I was to remove my plane from the hanger immediately and he would supervise my removal of the assets. We went to the office so I could take possession of what I could. I had no idea I had to have it all out that very day and had not come with a hand truck, etc. I was told to get my plane out of the hanger right away. There was not a single day’s notice, warning, no nothing other than get it out now. Mr. Gilman, who had kept his plane in the hanger without a lease, permission, or paying any fees, took his plane out as well. Bill Greenwald, the manager, pointed me towards frozen tie downs, then went on to help Trevor Gilman take his plane to the manager’s hanger and put it inside. I was left scrambling to borrow a hammer and screw driver to chip ice out of a frozen tie down on the tarmac. To add insult, I received an email from Airport Committee Chairman Mr. Naughton, “you DO NOT HAVE AUTHORIZATION TO ENTER THE BUILDING!” The purchase had closed only days before and we were still in the process of moving assets, yet somehow I was barred from removing my property! There had been no issues to precipitate the email let alone the all capital letter demand. Obviously Bill Greenwald, the manager, was doing Mr. Gilman’s bidding and by the email I received, the Committee Chairman was more than willing to abide.
In the realm of believe it or not, while taking my aircraft out of the hanger, a homeless guy showed up. Apparently, Mr. Gilman had given him permission to live in the hanger until the construction started at which point the homeless guy had to move out so no one would see him. Mr. Pilot was back to pick up his stuff. This suddenly super secure and restricted hanger had a homeless guy living there! The high security office had no door, everything was covered in construction debris and was regularly open to a parade of airport groupies. Trevor Gilman, the ex Committee Member who had been thrown off the Airport Committee and is under investigation for theft from the town was allowed free access without any ownership interest, lease, rental agreement or authority, but the owner of the property did “NOT HAVE AUTHORIZATION TO ENTER THE BUILDING!” to pick up the property he had purchased.
I came to North Adams to start a business, hire employees, attract customers and contribute to the airport and town economy. Instead this is what I experienced. It is very sad that an individual looking to invest in your town would be treated this way. It is irrational, unethical and a lot of it even criminal. My short experience at North Adams has exposed me to extensive fraud, corruption and criminal behavior that is not only chasing away legitimate investors but putting the community in danger.