Tippetts, feds clash over truck
Bank takes back vehicle as soon as FBI returns it
The FBI on Wednesday returned a truck seized seven months ago from Rex Tippetts, but Grand Junction Regional Airport’s former aviation director won’t be driving it anytime soon.
In what Tippetts’ lawyer criticized as FBI gamesmanship, the 2011 GMC Sierra at issue was repossessed by a Wyoming finance company nearly as soon as it was released from federal custody in Grand Junction on Wednesday, in the parking lot of the U.S. Bank building, 422 White Ave.
Attorney Stephen Laiche said an FBI agent showed up at his law firm around 10:30 a.m. with a set of keys for Tippetts’ wayward truck. Laiche said they were told the vehicle was being returned and was parked nearby, but there was no sign of it when they went looking for it. So, they called the FBI.
“We were told, ‘I suggest you call the bank,’” Laiche said.
The financing company, Wyoming-based ACPE Federal Credit Union, had repossessed the truck. Laiche accused federal agents of tipping off the lender about the truck’s status and whereabouts before Tippetts had a chance to get it back. He said no foreclosure action on the truck had been filed, and that Tippetts had pledged to make back payments covering the period when it was in federal custody.
“What is the federal government doing getting between him and his lender?” Laiche asked.
A representative of the credit union declined comment on Wednesday’s events.
Jeff Dorschner, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver, tells another story. He said the lender’s interest in the truck shouldn’t have surprised anyone, adding federal prosecutors have been in regular contact with everyone who has an interest in the truck.
“It was my understanding the bank had notified Tippetts of their intent to repossess (the truck) well before the truck was returned,” Dorschner said.
Dorschner earlier released a two-sentence statement: “Tippetts’ truck was returned and then it was immediately repossessed by the finance company. There is nothing else I can say at this point in time.”
Wednesday’s events come as Laiche said he has a motion pending in U.S. District Court seeking a court order for the truck’s return.
Tippetts’ truck was seized Jan. 14 as part of an ongoing criminal case, while those records are still sealed under court order. The government has yet to bring indictments against anyone in the nine-month-old airport investigation.
Dorschner said two other trucks seized during the airport investigation — including one taken under court order on Jan. 13 from former board president and chairman Denny Granum — are still caught up in ongoing asset forfeiture civil cases. Granum’s lawyer has said they’re seeking its return. Those records are also sealed.
The Daily Sentinel has learned that a third truck seized in July belonged to Travis Vallin, a principal with Jviation, the Denver aviation engineering and construction firm.
“We’re working with authorities,” Vallin said Thursday, declining further comment.
Jviation earlier this year was in a dispute with the Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority as its board of directors had refused to pay for work relating to the construction of an administrative building. The airport has said it has no contracts for Jviation, or the building’s designer, Denver’s Fentress Architects, for the work.
The Airport Authority in July sold three 2014 GMC Sierra diesel pickups, which were purchased before the FBI’s Nov. 6, 2013, raid at the Airport Authority administrative offices. Tippetts was suspended by the board and eventually fired Dec. 17.
The three trucks recently sold off were sold back to the dealership from where they were originally purchased for $147,000, after the dealership bought them last year for $151,520.