Spitfire Aviation Owner Sentenced in Insurance-Fraud Scheme

Secret Flight and False Claim Lands Andrea Read in Legal Trouble

The owner and operator of Spitfire Aviation flight school at the Santa Barbara Airport was sentenced last month to three years of probation for helping orchestrate an insurance-fraud scheme involving one of the school’s planes. Andrea Read pleaded no contest to “accessory after the fact,” which prosecutors say is “a crime of moral turpitude” that could affect her business and pilot’s licenses.

Andrea Read
Click to enlarge photo

Andrea Read

The sequence of events and Read’s involvement are detailed in a 15-page report written by an investigator with the California Department of Insurance, who notes that Read refused to cooperate with authorities and likely doctored and deleted incriminating data from her office computer before it could be viewed by National Transportation Safety Board agents.

Anita Rodriquez told investigators that on July 1, 2009, she was flying a Cessna 172 rented from Spitfire when she had a hard landing at Page Airport in Arizona. Though a mechanic there gave her the all-clear to fly after a quick inspection of the plane, when the Cessna returned home to Santa Barbara it was discovered that the impact actually caused more than $40,000 of internal damage. The aircraft would remain grounded over the next few months. Rodriguez said Spitfire never told her to buy renter’s insurance and didn’t have any at the time.

When Read learned of the incident and the damage, according to the report, she told Rodriquez on July 13 to meet her at Spitfire’s hangar, where she ordered Rodriquez to purchase her own liability policy. Read said they would wait a few weeks before filing a claim against that policy instead of Spitfire’s. Rodriquez told investigators she was “intimidated” and “coerced” by Read and Spitfire maintenance supervisor Glenn Fuller to go along with the ruse and reportedly did so out of a fear of retaliation. Shortly after, she purchased a $50,000 ADL (aircraft damage liability) policy through Avemco Insurance Company.

On the night of August 12, nearly six weeks after the hard landing, Rodriquez again met Read at the hangar. The plan was to take a different Cessna up for a short flight and say the hard landing took place then. According to investigators, Read picked a particularly dark and foggy night so the airport’s control tower wouldn’t be able to see the dummy plane’s tail number. Read then reportedly manipulated the damaged plane’s Tachometer and Hobbs meter records to reflect the flight. Neither the control tower nor the FAA were notified of the supposed incident that night.

The next day, the investigator’s report states, Rodriquez filed her claim with Avemco and later received “word-for-word” instructions from Read and Fuller on how to complete the forms. Before Avemco issued any funds, one of Spitfire’s mechanics notified the company that the claim was likely fraudulent. Soon after, Rodriquez withdrew her claim, but by that time, the NTSB and the California Department of Insurance had become involved. After the agencies completed their investigations, they forwarded the case to the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office, which admonished Read for taking a cross-country flight in the midst of prosecution after she was specifically ordered to remain in the county.

Rodriquez, Fuller, and a Spitfire mechanic named Christopher Forester testified against Read and pleaded no contest to minor misdemeanor charges for their roles in the scheme. After a related court hearing, Read’s girlfriend reportedly accosted one of the involved parties and is now being investigated for witness intimidation. Fuller and Read are currently embroiled in a bitter contract dispute. That case is scheduled to go to trial in October. Since 2004, Read has been part of 15 separate lawsuits, mostly as a plaintiff in property-related complaints.

Read declined to comment on her insurance-fraud case and referred all questions to defense attorney Doug Hayes. Hayes placed much of the blame on Rodriquez, claiming she was a Spitfire employee at the time of the scam and that she took the Cessna she damaged without permission. Hayes, countering that Read’s charge is not a “crime of moral turpitude,” said it was Rodriquez who masterminded the fraud.

Hayes asserted that Read did nothing wrong, and that the late-night flight was taken just to check the aircraft for any mechanical issues. He said the only reason Read pleaded no contest to her accessory charge was because she originally faced five felony counts and he didn’t want to take a chance with a jury. Of Read’s refusal to talk with with authorities, Hayes said that he had simply given her “properly lawyer advice that you don’t cooperate with anybody.”

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