Court dates set in Middletown skydiving data theft case

Start Skydiving in Middletown.

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Start Skydiving in Middletown.

One former Middletown city employee has been arraigned on charges in Middletown Municipal Court in connection with the alleged hacking, corporate economic espionage and illegal recordings of Start Skydiving at the Middletown Regional Airport.

Former airport manager Daniel Dickten, 67, of Goshen, was arraigned Dec. 31 on charges of unauthorized use of property and obstruction of justice, both fourth-degree misdemeanors.

Dickten, who retired from the city in August, was also charged with two counts of aggravated menacing, both first-degree misdemeanors. This incident is unrelated to the investigation, but Dickten is alleged to have menaced an airport tenant and his wife on July 31. A pre-trial conference on all charges has been scheduled for 9 a.m. Jan. 29.

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Ashley Schulte, 36, of Union, Ohio, and former airport facilities supervisor, is scheduled to be arraigned on Jan. 20 on a charge of complicity to unauthorized use of property, a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

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Schulte, who formerly worked for Start Skydiving, allegedly gave Dickten her account access information to Start’s computer system. Schulte now works for Safe Skies Aviation, the interim fixed-base operator at the airport. She also filed a federal lawsuit against the city on Aug. 20 on a claim of unpaid wages and an discrimination complaint against Dickten.

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Matthew Eisenbraun, 55, of Oxford is the Middletown assistant economic development director with oversight over the airport. He is scheduled to be arraigned on Jan. 20 on a charge of failure to report a crime, a second-degree misdemeanor. Eisenbraun remains a city employee and continues to oversee the airport.

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The charges were the result of a nearly three-month investigation by Middletown police that was completed on Dec. 8. John Hart II, co-owner of Start Skydiving signed the criminal complaint on Dec. 22 against the three past and/or current employees.

The criminal complaint is in addition to Start Skydiving filing a federal civil lawsuit alleging that the city, Eisenbraun and Dickten had an “ongoing vindictive, corrupt, and deceitful attempts by the city and its key personnel to kick Start out of the airport and to harm its business, despite Start’s 20-year lease at the airport which runs through 2029.”

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Start alleged city employees hacked into its financial database to spy and steal business data; violated the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act; spread false and defamatory statements about Start’s operations to undermine them in the community; and trumped up untrue claims of unsafe operations by Start while not doing a safety analysis.

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Start also alleged the city failed to honor property improvement obligations as part of the 20-year lease, developed a new master plan that did include Start and is trying to force Start off the airport with unreasonable new demands.

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The lease issues between the city and Start remain unresolved.

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