The lawyer representing two groups of AeroVanti members says its Top Gun membership has the ‘hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme’.
If true, the allegations against private aviation membership provider AeroVanti in two separate lawsuits filed earlier this week could mean dozens of the private flight provider’s clients have lost as much as $15 million.
The lawyer representing the AeroVanti flyers, Ryan C. Wagner of WLG Firm in Ft. Lauderdale, tells Private Jet Card Comparisons, “Based on the information and documentation that was discovered, and continues to be discovered, the activities and misappropriation of funds related to AeroVanti’s Top Gun Membership, are hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme.”
The two lawsuits, filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, allege the Maryland and Delaware-based membership club solicited flyers with the promise of cheap flights on Piaggio P.180s priced at $1,500 per hour.
The lawsuit names several related companies, AeroVanti Founder and CEO Patrick Tormay Britton-Harr, former COO Robert De Pol, and Benjamin Ricketts, whose LinkedIn profile shows him a VP of Sales.
Among the companies Britton-Harr used were AeroVanti, AeroVanti Aviation, AeroVanti Aircraft, AeroVanti Capital, AeroVanti Maintenance, AeroVanti Hanger-MD, AeroVanti Hangar-FL, AeroVanti Brokerage, and Tombstone Holdings.
According to the filing, the lawsuit alleges “a calculated and continuing scheme undertaken by Defendant, Britton-Harr, and his network of affiliated companies to sell private aviation memberships and otherwise defraud unsuspecting members out of their money.”
Under what was presented as a Top Gun membership, the Plaintiffs thought they were joining together to acquire and recondition airplanes the company was leasing. The airplanes would increase the provider’s fleet, which all the members would use.
Two aircraft are specified in the lawsuits, N111VR and N290BC.
The way it worked, AeroVanti bundled together 20 members who each paid $150,000.
Each group’s money was supposed to go to buying, refurbishing, and upgrading one of the twin turboprops, with the funds they paid secured by an escrow agent.
In return, each member was to receive 100 flight hours at $1,500 per hour, and the aircraft would end up being owned by AeroVanti.
The lawsuits allege that the money, being held in escrow, when disbursed to AeroVanti, was not used to pay the leases, complete the acquisition, or refurbish the aircraft.
Instead, AeroVanti defaulted on the lease payments, and the airplanes were repossessed.
According to the filing, there were at least five groups, meaning at least $15 million at stake.
Additionally, AeroVanti ignored requests for monies to be refunded.
Meanwhile, members of AeroVanti have received letters from the Federal Aviation Administration looking for evidence that the 2021 start-up is operating illegal charters.
Since last Fall, the program has been marketing itself as operating under Part 91F, which does not have the same level of regulations on pilot experience, maintenance, and other safety features as Part 135, the rules which govern private jet charter and jet card flights.
Patrick Britton-Harr, the Founder and CEO of AeroVanti, has previously told Private Jet Card Comparisons that the program is operating compliantly with government regulations.
AeroVanti, meanwhile, has signed sponsorship deals to become the official private jet provider of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Chicago Cubs, and University of Maryland Athletics.
It was recently a sponsor at The Preakness.
This Saturday, it will sponsor the No. 7 Spire Motorsports team in the May 28th Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with its logo on the side of Corey LaJoie Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Its golden goose logo will appear on the hood.
As part of the filing, lawyers for the Plaintiff are requesting records of payments made to the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raymond James Stadium, and NASCAR.
During its brief history, the company has been plagued by complaints.
In an email chain between members obtained by Private Jet Card Comparisons, one of the plaintiffs, Mark Lachance, writes, “Bernie Madoff could learn a few things from these clowns. If you dangle a few shiny private jets at reasonable prices in front of hard-charging entrepreneurs like us, we will bite every time! I have to give them credit, they put together a helluva scam!!!”
Another member, Darren Rhodes, emailed, “They canceled my last two flights. One in March and one in April. Both canceled the day prior to the scheduled departure date. I am now scrambling to find a backup for tomorrow’s trip.”
However, he added, “Prior to these (3) straight cancelations, I had (6) flights with no issues. Seems to be getting worse instead of better.”
He concluded with, “On another note, I had reservations when purchasing time that their business model would even work at their as advertised rate. Seems my intuition was correct.”
One day after the lawsuit was filed, Britton-Harr sent an email stating, “In a continued effort to enhance our membership program, I am pleased to announce that Aerovanti has added 18 aircraft to our fleet through a direct and exclusive relationship with an air carrier partner, which will significantly increase flight availability. In addition to more availability and flexibility, our members will now have access to longer-range flights as well as increased passenger capacity.”
The email contains hourly rates for a Citation CJ4 at $4,000 per hour, a Gulfstream G200 for $5,800 per hour, and a Challenger 300 for $7,000 per hour.
While terms are not disclosed, according to the Private Jet Card Comparisons database of over 80 jet card and membership providers and more than 900 programs, rates for a CJ4, excluding FET and fuel surcharges, start at $8,510 per hour, a G200 starts at $11,743 per hour, while a Challenger 300 is priced from $11,288 per hour.
The Piaggio P.180s AeroVanti was selling to general members at $2,450 per hour after raising published prices by $500 is priced from $6,984 per hour from another provider.
AeroVanti launched in May 2021 and was originally using a Piaggio charter operator from Oklahoma.
However, that relationship ended in September of the same year.
The company also changed from an initial strategy of outsourcing to supposedly building its own team.
Last Fall, AeroVanti said it had received $100 million in funding.
It also launched AeroVanti Yacht Club.
Last week, AeroVanti signed a three-year deal to become the official private aviation and yachting partner of U.S. Sailing.
In the announcement, US Sailing CEO Alan Ostfield said, “AeroVanti has redefined the private aviation and yacht membership industries with an innovative approach that has increased access to private travel. We are proud to assist in bringing innovative and exciting travel opportunities to our members and sailing community.”
De Pol, who served as COO of AeroVanti Air Club from October 2021 through February of this year, claimed in his resume the company had 56 employees when he departed.
He also said the company had grown to $15 million in gross revenue per quarter and was operating 16 airplanes.
AeroVanti was recently named a top start-up by business newspapers in both Baltimore and Tampa.
Wagner of WLG Firm said in a written statement, “My clients, in each respective case, were induced to purchase a membership unit in the AeroVanti Top Gun Membership Program, only to then discover that the representations made by AeroVanti, through its agents and network of affiliates and subsidiaries, were nothing more than a mirage, as the funds received by AeroVanti for the Top Gun Membership, specifically the funds received by my clients for their respective Top Gun Memberships were not used to acquire a specified Piaggo P. 180 Avanti Aircraft, each with a designated serial number and tail number, rather the funds were used for an improper purpose, much to the dismay and disbelief of my clients.”
Defendants are Stephan Gratziani, Jorge Luis de la Concepcion, Alan Rodriguez, and Wishbone Media, LLC, in one lawsuit. Royal Agmbr, LLC, Andrew Hunter Harman, John David Sullivan, Matthew A. Brandman, and Regal Russell Porter II were defendants in the second action.
In the email chain, another member, Michael Robinson, wrote on May 17 that AeroVanti had canceled a flight booked six months ago, citing a reduction in aircraft.
He wrote, “The clown car is on fire.”
Britton-Harr did not respond to a request for comment. When reached, De Pol declined to comment.
Editor’s Note: May 24 at 5:47 pm- Britton-Harr responded after publication, “Since the launch of our program and platform, we understand that our membership is not set up for everyone. We are not an on-demand charter. We are a private membership club. All of our members utilize our aircraft interchangeably. Since our launch, the safety of our members and our crew has always been our top priority, and that will never change. Flight cancelations due to weather, maintenance, availability, or any other scenarios are part of the aviation industry. Unfortunately, there are people who put convenience and personal priorities ahead of safety. That’s something we will never budge on. The collective group led by Mr. Gratziani has been offered to have their memberships bought back. They are very opportunistic. They believe in cancel culture. We just brought on 18 new aircraft. Some people think pressuring employees and threatening employees is the best way for them to get a flight. We are not going to succumb to threats by members. We have a tremendous amount of support. We are continuing to move forward and will not be blindsided by a few toxic individuals.”