10:18 PM PDT on Wednesday, September 21, 2011

BY KIMBERLY PIERCEALL and DUG BEGLEY, STAFF WRITERS
kpierceall@pe.com | dbegley@pe.com

Published: 9/21/2011 06:20 PM

FBI agents and other law enforcement officers raided the San Bernardino International Airport Authority office and storage units as well as a home and offices used by Scot Spencer, a convicted felon who was awarded two no-bid agreements in 2007 to build a commercial airport at the former Norton Air Force Base.

Investigators seized boxes of material and one safe, enough to fill a 26-foot-long U-Haul truck that parked in front of airport offices throughout the day Wednesday. Dozens of law enforcement vehicles also were filled with materials.

Seven federal search warrants were served Wednesday morning, including one at the Million Air corporate aviation facility. Spencer manages the franchise and has an office on the second floor. Other warrants were served at three hangars; one is the corporate address for Spencer’s companies. The administrative office for the San Bernardino International Airport Authority and Inland Valley Development Agency, the two agencies overseeing the redevelopment of the former Air Force base, also was raided. Another warrant was served on a Riverside home rented by Spencer.

Agents did not say what they were looking for, said Karen Feld with Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, the law firm representing the IVDA and airport authority.

“We’re cooperating any way we can,” she said.

An FBI spokeswoman wouldn’t say what prompted the raid.

A San Bernardino County civil grand jury report released June 30 was highly critical of Spencer’s business relationship with the airport’s executive director. It questioned the airport staff’s oversight as well as a $1 million legal settlement that the airport awarded Spencer.

That report was the result of the grand jury’s two-year investigation of the airport’s operations and airport authority officials’ dealings with Spencer.

The cost to build the airport — which includes a luxury Million Air corporate jet terminal and a four-gate passenger concourse — has grown from $45 million to $142.5 million in local and federal taxpayer funds. Despite promises from airport officials that a passenger carrier would land, the airport has no commercial airlines. Corporate jets and other private pilots have been landing at Million Air since it opened last year.

Feld said staff was confident the airport would still function despite the reams of documents and materials being carted away. Despite not having a commercial airline, private planes and county fire aircraft take off and land there. Private companies also paint and maintain planes in the airport’s hangars.

“What they usually do is they copy stuff and they leave us with something,” she said. “We anticipate that it will be up and running whenever they let us in.”

SPECIAL MEETING

A special public meeting of the Inland Valley Development Agency board has been scheduled for 3 p.m. Friday at Loma Linda City Hall.

“We need to inform the respective agency members and then take prompt action,” said Josie Gonzales, a San Bernardino County supervisor as well as a co-chair of the Inland Valley Development Agency and a member of the airport authority. She asked for the meeting, saying she was frustrated by the raid and recent questions regarding airport spending.

She said she remains hopeful that the airport can be turned into something productive for the Inland region. But Gonzales conceded that recent criticism of the airport’s spending and federal officials raiding offices are not helping make that happen.

“Certainly, the results we were all expecting are threatened,” she said.

Airport Executive Director Donald Rogers and Assistant Director Mike Burrows did not return calls seeking comment. Neither did Spencer or his vice president, T. Milford Harrison.

Martin Romeo, chief financial officer for the airport authority and IVDA, had been called about 9:15 a.m. Wednesday to come to the office to open the agencies’ safe. He was still there Wednesday afternoon and chatted with Bill Ingraham, the airport’s aviation director, in the agency’s parking lot.

Ingraham, who has had a contract with the authority for several years to manage aviation uses, said he didn’t know what the FBI was looking for.

“They just put everyone in the parking lot and sent them home,” he said. Ingraham said his cellphone was inside the office and he wasn’t able to retrieve it.

“They’re not talking to me,” he said of the FBI.

Ingraham said he didn’t know where Spencer might be, and that he hadn’t talked with him in about a week, he said.

The raid Wednesday morning was performed by more than 80 investigators who are part of the Inland Valley Regional Corruption Task Force made up of FBI agents, investigators from San Bernardino and Riverside counties’ district attorneys’ offices and the California Department of Justice, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller. Affidavits that detail the goals of the searches were sealed, she said.

Other agencies involved in the raid included the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General and a regional group that conducts computer forensics.

While teams sifted through files in San Bernardino, investigators, including FBI agents, worked inside Spencer’s rented home in Riverside on Wyndham Hill Drive. The nearly 10,000-square-foot house with five bedrooms and a library is in a neighborhood of estate-sized houses behind elaborate iron gates where most homes sell for between $1 million and $2 million.

James Monks, sales manager for Prudential California Realty in Riverside, said it is unusual to have a leased home in Hawarden Hills, which he said is one of Riverside’s premiere neighborhoods. He said when the two-story brick house with a swimming pool and library was listed in August 2010, the owner was asking $5,000 a month in rent.

An attorney for the firm representing the IVDA and airport authority said staff was confident the airport would function despite the load of materials being carted away.

REP. LEWIS’ REACTION

Inland Rep. Jerry Lewis, who over the years has helped lead efforts to secure millions of federal dollars dedicated to projects on the Norton property, said Wednesday’s developments are unsettling.

“I am extremely concerned that the current events may set back the progress we have made in bringing new jobs to this former base,” Lewis, R-Redlands, said in a written statement issued hours after FBI agents descended on the property.

Lewis did not pass judgment on the activities of officials at the airport, according to his spokesman, Jim Specht.

“It’s entirely premature,” Specht said. “We don’t even know why the airport is being raided.”

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