Criminal charges against Vision Airlines have been dropped.
State Attorney Bill Eddins announced Tuesday that his office had dropped the first-degree grand theft charge against the airline after it paid more than $160,000 in fines and fees to Okaloosa County in the past month.
“I think it’s a very positive resolution for the people of Okaloosa County,” Eddins said. “We were able to quickly recover not only the funds owed, but the late fees, as well as the county legal fees that were expended in trying to get them to pay before we got involved. They’ve agreed to fully cooperate with us in our ongoing investigation into the Tourist Development Council matter.”
The state attorney’s office filed the grand theft charge after the county tried unsuccessfully for months to get Vision to pay $117,660 in unpaid passenger facility charges owed to Northwest Florida Regional Airport.
A $4.50 passenger facility charge is collected by each airline for every paying passenger that flies out of the airport. The airlines keep 11 cents from each charge for collecting the fee, but are supposed to pay the remaining $4.39 to the airport within 30 days after the end of the month in which it is collected.
Vision started offering flights at Northwest Florida Regional in December 2010, but did not make its first passenger facility charge payment until October 2011. Payments were infrequent after that.
Less than 24 hours after the criminal charge was filed, Vision paid the $117,660 in overdue passenger facility charges, but still owed the county nearly $44,000 in legal fees, late charges and interest related to the charges.
Vision paid an additional $43,477.94 to the county Monday.
Eddins said the charges could be refiled if Vision fails to cooperate in the TDC investigation, but added that he does not expect that to be an issue.
Vision still owes the county about $35,000 from unpaid utilities, rent and fuel for its ground servicing equipment, as well as late fees.
The county filed a lawsuit against Vision in January to get the full $146,000 the airline owed at the time. Late charges continued to accumulate after the filing.
Dino Villani, Okaloosa’s interim airports director, said the county will evaluate its options before it decides whether to go forward with its lawsuit.
“Once we do that we’ll make a determination if it will be cost effective to try to recover the rest of the money or not, depending on legal fees,” Villani said.
Eddins said the remaining money Vision owes the county is a civil matter and does not involve his office.
Contact Daily News Business Editor Dusty Ricketts at 850-315-4448 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DustyRnwfdn.