By Richard K. De Atley | rdeatley@scng.com | The Press-Enterprise
Published: May 10, 2018 at 4:05 pm | Updated: May 10, 2018 at 4:50 pm

A once high-profile criminal case has ended quietly for Scot Spencer, a former airline executive whose 2013 charge of conspiring to steal $175 million in public funds while doing work at San Bernardino International Airport put a spotlight on the facility’s management.

Spencer pleaded guilty to a tax evasion charge his attorney said was unrelated to the airport case in late March, and all other charges against him were dismissed.

None of the charges involving the airport and filed more than five years ago reached a preliminary hearing for either Spencer or co-defendant Felice Luciano, whose case ended with dismissals and expungements. The preliminary hearing would have reviewed whether the allegations were worthy for trial.

The airport’s board of commissioners — composed of local elected officials — gave Spencer millions of dollars in contracts and management of the facility in the early 2000s, despite his felony fraud conviction from the previous decade. The U.S Department of Transportation ordered him banned from the aviation industry in 2005, citing him for operating an unlicensed charter flight company.

The commissioners knew about both of those matters.

Spencer, along with Luciano, had been accused of conspiring to bilk the San Bernardino International Airport Authority through a fraudulent claim. There were also charges of perjury and preparing false documents linked to tax evasion against Spencer.

Court records show Spencer pleaded guilty on March 22 to one count of tax evasion, which was not tied to any of the airport charges, his attorney Stephen Larson said.

Spencer was sentenced to one day of probation that began and ended on the same day as his plea, and all other charges were dismissed, court records show. He is on federal probation on his plea to a similar charge

“While I am relieved that, after five long years, the District Attorney dismissed all the charges related to the airport, I would not want anyone to go through what I’ve gone through,” Spencer said in an emailed statement Thursday.

“There never was a Grand Jury indictment or a preliminary hearing before a court — only untrue allegations by the District Attorney in a complaint that should never have been filed,” he wrote.

Larson said the charge to which Spencer pleaded was added to the San Bernardino County case after Spencer was indicted in federal court in 2015 for understating his income on his federal tax return in 2012.

Spencer pleaded guilty to the federal charge on March 19, was placed on three years’ probation, and reached an agreement to pay $148,474 in back taxes. His plea a few days later in San Bernardino County Superior Court was to a state version of the federal tax charge, Larson said. The attorney expects it will be reduced to a misdemeanor.

“Justice delayed is justice denied, and there is no way for Scot to get those five years back, or to undo the damage done by the District Attorney’s reckless charges to the County, its now struggling airport, and the many employees from various businesses who needlessly lost their jobs,” Larson wrote in an email.

Luciano had pleaded no contest to a conspiracy charge earlier in the case, but was allowed to withdraw that plea when the Spencer case was resolved. Three misdemeanor counts to which he pleaded guilty were expunged on April 5, allowing him to say they were dismissed. Under expungement rules, the convictions will remain on his record.

District Attorney Mike Ramos said at the time of Spencer’s 2013 arrest, “It’s an unconscionable crime – morally, ethically – and now it’s reached to a criminal level, and this office is going to hold them responsible.”

The case had been investigated by the Inland Regional Corruption Task Force – including Ramos’ office, the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office and state Attorney General’s Office.

“Alongside our state and federal partners, this office has done a good job of cleaning up public corruption in the county over the last 16 years. We will continue to hold those who break the law accountable for their actions,” Ramos said in an emailed statement Thursday.

“Sadly, this is yet another example of overzealous prosecution by the San Bernardino District Attorney leading absolutely nowhere,” said Larson, who was a defense attorney in the Colonies public corruption case filed by Ramos’ office that ended with three defendants acquitted and another with charges dismissed in 2017.

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