Trial gets underway for former Newport News airport director accused of misusing funds

Newport News

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A jury trial got underway Tuesday in federal court for one of the two men at the center of a scandal involving a now-defunct People Express Airlines.

Ken Spirito was the executive director of the Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport from 2009 until he was fired by the Peninsula Airport Commission in May 2017.

He was indicted on charges last year, including conversion and misapplication of property from an organization receiving federal funds.

A jury was selected for the case Tuesday afternoon, then opening statements began around 3 p.m.

Prosecutors said Spirito misapplied funds from the airport to pay off a loan for a failed startup airline People Express. They said his actions were reckless, driven by a need to get a new service to the airport.

They also claim he made justifications to use the funds.

People Express received a $5 million loan in June 2014 from TowneBank that was guaranteed by the Peninsula Airport Commission. According to a previous Department of Justice news release, the loan was given due to a focus on “the public commitment of funds.”

The total loan amount was almost entirely drawn down within three months by those in charge of People Express.

RELATED: Official: Funds cut from Peninsula Airport Commission for unauthorized use

The defense, on the other hand, claims there is nothing to hide. They say the facts will come out over the next few weeks showing Spirito did things legally.

This will be a three-week trial.

Last week, the former president of People Express Airlines, Michael Morisi, 59, of Suffolk, was sentenced in federal court to two years for fraud and filing a false income tax return.

He has until 2 p.m. March 20 to turn himself in to begin serving his sentence.

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