Current, former Middletown airport employees facing criminal charges after investigation

Start Skydiving in Middletown.

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Start Skydiving in Middletown.

Three current or former Middletown employees will face charges after a criminal investigation by police.

Middletown police were contacted Sept. 15 by John Hart II of Start Skydiving, who alleged hacking, corporate economic espionage and illegal recordings by city employees at the Middletown Regional Airport.

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The complaint resulted in a nearly three-month investigation by Middletown police that was completed Dec. 8. The investigation was reviewed by city officials and referred to Franklin City Prosecutor Steve Runge for review because it involved city employees.

Hart II signed the criminal complaints to file the charges on Tuesday. Hart II did not return messages seeking comment.

On Tuesday, the following charges were recommended to be filed against:

  • Matthew Eisenbraun, assistant economic development director with oversight over the airport: failure to report a crime, a second-degree misdemeanor. Eisenbraun remains an active city employee.
  • Daniel Dickten, former airport manager: unauthorized use of property and obstruction of justice, both fourth-degree misdemeanors. Dickten 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. He retired from the city in August.
  • Ashley Schulte, former airport facilities supervisor: complicity to unauthorized use of property. 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.

All three were issued summonses, and charges have been filed in Middletown Municipal Court. A visiting judge and prosecutor will try the case.

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Schulte filed a lawsuit Aug. 20 in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati against the city of Middletown to collect what she claims are unpaid wages from earlier this year. She also filed a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission discrimination complaint against Dickten concerning inappropriate comments and retaliation against her.

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Last week, Start Skydiving filed 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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“Late last week the owners of Start Skydiving filed suit in federal district court against the city of Middletown alleging various civil rights violation and breach of contract claims relating to the city’s long-standing lease agreement with Start for hangar and facility space at the Middletown Regional Airport,” said Middletown City Manager Jim Palenick . “The city disputes the claims as filed and will vigorously and proactively defend its position and its employees in this or any related litigation that transpires.”

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Palenick also said “the city values Start and its place in the local business and aviation community and its contribution to the local economy.”

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He said the city and Start have been working to negotiate through some points of contention that remain in dispute about their lease.

“To do so will likely take the intervention of an unbiased, independent, third-party arbiter and the court system may serve well in that role,” Palenick said.

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