Tippetts denies fraud
Former Grand Junction Regional Airport Aviation Director Rex Tippetts denies allegations of wide-ranging fraud against him contained in a civil lawsuit filed by a former airport employee and rejects claims the employee was fired after threats to expose fraud.
Tippetts’ lawyers have asked U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson to order the Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority to indemnify Tippetts. That would mean the Airport Authority would pay all of Tippetts’ attorney fees, court costs and other damages incurred from the lawsuit filed Dec. 18 by former airport Security Director Donna VanLandingham.
Tippetts’ response to the lawsuit points a finger at his former employer, arguing Tippetts can’t be sued under the Colorado Governmental Immunity Act for acts performed under the scope of Tippetts’ airport employment.
“Defendant Airport Authority is the real party in interest in this civil action, not Defendant Tippetts individually,” reads an answer filed on Friday in U.S. District Court by Grand Junction attorney Harry Griff.
The Denver law firm representing the Airport Authority filed a motion Friday seeking an extension of time until March 4 to formally respond to the VanLandingham lawsuit.
The motion hadn’t been ruled on as of Monday.
Vanlandingham’s lawsuit alleged her firing on Jan. 5, 2011, was retaliation for her “refusal to obey orders of Tippetts to perpetuate a fraud he was committing” against the Federal Aviation Administration. In the lawsuit, she claimed knowledge about or possession of documents indicating that Tippetts falsified reasons to build a fence around the airport perimeter; rewarded certain bidders to have an “inside track” on purchases and projects; conspired with airport board members to allow purchases of “used” airport equipment at low prices; purchased items for the airport that ended up used for personal benefit and awarded contracts to family members of the Airport Authority board.
Without elaboration, Tippetts’ filing on Friday denied each of those allegations.
The response claims VanLandingham, an at-will employee who was subject to termination with or without cause, was notified of her termination Jan. 5, 2011, “pursuant to a reorganization of the airport staff, pursuant to which another Airport Authority employee was also being laid off.”
“Plaintiff’s separation from employment had nothing to do with a concern that she was aware of any impropriety at the Airport, because, at the time of her separation, neither Defendant Tippetts, nor the Airport Authority’s Board of Commissioners, were aware of any concerns of the federal or state government as to the Airport’s operations, nor had the Plaintiff brought any such concerns to the attention of Defendant Tippetts or the Airport Authority’s Board of Commissioners,” the response reads.
VanLandingham alleged that Tippetts offered a “take-it-or-leave-it” separation agreement in which she pledged not sue the Airport Authority or its employees. VanLandingham signed it, the lawsuit alleges, under threat she wouldn’t get seven weeks of accrued paid off-time, worth $8,153, if she refused.
The lawsuit alleges she was never paid those monies, despite signing the agreement.
Tippetts’ response, however, claims VanLandingham was paid accrued salary and off-time on Jan. 5, 2011, the date of her separation.
Agents of the FBI and U.S. Department of Transportation on Nov. 6 raided Airport Authority offices. Records associated with matter are under seal, but authorities acknowledged the investigation is focused on fraud allegations involving airport administration. Tippetts was fired by the airport board Dec. 17. The Daily Sentinel learned the FBI seized pickup trucks belonging to former board Chairman Denny Granum and Tippetts on Jan. 13 and 14, respectively.