10:31 PM PDT on Wednesday, June 29, 2011

By KIMBERLY PIERCEALL
The Press-Enterprise

A developer whose companies have been paid more than $2 million in taxpayer funds, so far, to build an airport at the former Norton Air Force Base, owes at least $681,917.24 in taxes, has reportedly not paid rent since March and has other outstanding debts, according to records.

Turning the former Norton base into San Bernardino International Airport has cost taxpayers nearly $142.5 million at this point.

Scot Spencer’s companies control much of the airport. He is landlord for the airport’s largest hangar, developer and manager of the main passenger terminal and the Million Air hub for general aviation as well as operator of an aircraft maintenance business.

The price to renovate the passenger terminal has risen from an estimated $38 million in 2008 to more than $100 million. A new general aviation terminal to house Million Air cost close to $20 million instead of the estimated $7 million. A U.S. Customs building has cost $21 million so far.

For each, Spencer’s companies have gotten a cut: a developer fee worth 1.35 percent of every construction contract to build the main passenger terminal and 2 percent for each contract to build the Million Air terminal and U.S. Customs building.

Those fees have amounted to $2.06 million as of March, according to records obtained by The Press-Enterprise through the California Public Records Act. That doesn’t count another $4.3 million the airport reimbursed him for equipment he bought, architecture and engineering designs, construction management and municipal fees.

Reached by phone, Spencer said he wasn’t aware of owing any taxes and assumed that the largest amounts, owed for property taxes on a hangar, were because his subtenants didn’t pay their own as agreed upon.

In at least one sublease, a provision dictates the tenant is responsible for all property taxes.

Spencer said he called his accountant in New York on Wednesday evening.

“It sounded like he was getting it all worked out with the assessor’s office,” he said.

In addition to the property and employment tax liens, the companies have been taken to court for debts owed American Express and others.

Spencer’s companies also haven’t paid rent at the airport since March and he typically is 60 to 90 days past due, said Don Rogers, executive director of the Inland Valley Development Agency and San Bernardino International Airport Authority. The agencies have been overseeing and paying for redevelopment at Norton since the base was closed and 10,000 jobs were lost.

“He’s not as regular as we’d like him to be,” Rogers said.

Spencer said Wednesday, though, that he had paid rent through June on his lease for Hangar 763.

Rogers said he wasn’t aware of Spencer’s companies owing any taxes and questioned the validity of the amounts.

“This is new information to me,” Rogers said.

S.B. COUNTY VERIFIES

Spencer’s companies SBD Aircraft Services and SBD Properties are listed in documents at the San Bernardino County recorder’s office for owing the money.

As of Monday, the assistant auditor-controller, treasurer and tax collector for the county confirmed that all of the amounts owed, including $15,782.54 for one of Spencer’s aircraft, remained unchanged except for the interest accrued.

Spencer said county assessors had mistakenly taxed his aircraft since it wasn’t operational, and records could have been confused when the registration numbers were changed over time after he bought planes from American Airlines.

The tax lien is attached to a 1973 Boeing 727-227. It’s the same year and model of plane that was at the center of an embarrassing tenant dispute at the airport when Spencer said he needed hangar space already occupied by a blimp company. Spencer, threatening to sue the airport, was appeased with a $550,000 low-interest loan and $470,000 in rent and loan credits.

He owes the county at least $604,392.61 for unpaid taxes on property and equipment at the airport that began adding up in 2005, related to his lease of Hangar 763 and property interest he acquired when he bought a former fixed-base operation at the airport.

SBD Aircraft Services LLC owed at least $77,524.63 in federal and state taxes as of the end of May, some related to employment taxes and a business partnership tax, according to records.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Spencer disputed the employment taxes since SBD Aircraft Services had only a single clerical employee who now works for Million Air San Bernardino.

Other debts include money SBD Aircraft Services owed to American Express. Spencer’s business partner and former IVDA executive director T. Milfred Harrison racked up $63,043.45 in unknown charges with American Express on a business platinum card and another $4,642.86 on a Starwood preferred guest business credit card as of July 2010. When American Express attempted to serve Harrison with the lawsuit at 255 S. Leland Norton Way, SBD Aircraft’s address, the front door was locked.

Then, the server was told “per female on the intercom, subject is on a cruise,” according to court records. The default judgment in favor of American Express was $75,147.75.

A message left on Harrison’s cellphone, seeking comment, was not returned.

TAINTED HISTORY

The airport awarded Spencer and the companies he manages a no-bid contract to build the airport in 2007. Time was of the essence to renovate the terminal and attract an airline, officials with the agencies said then.

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