Longform

The Last Flight Plan

Page 5 of 6

Though Meenan's people are quick to say "she's no Jean Rich," they may underestimate her. Harrington fights on, despite being repeatedly frustrated in court. She had to defend herself against foreclosure proceedings to hold on to the Islamorada house she's worked so hard to transform. A three-year effort to buy her stepfather's shares in the airline fell flat. Meenan and Batchelor even stymied her attempts to bring independent management to the firm. But she simply will not quit.

In December 1992, a year following Jean Rich's death, Harrington filed suit in probate court charging that Bill Meenan tripled his salary through deceit, that he failed to transfer to the children their shares of the company, and that he took advantage of the boys' grief by having them sign away their rights on their dead mother's birthday. (Meenan's attorney counters that, had the children been given their shares when they demanded them, Meenan would have been saddled with tax debt.)

Harrington and her attorney eventually got what she wanted. Under a settlement recorded June 21, 1993, Meenan withdrew the "voting trust agreements." He also agreed to give the children more say in the corporate management by allowing them to appoint two members to the board of directors. (The other side would appoint two members and the probate judge would appoint a fifth.) Also under the settlement, the children were to receive a monthly salary and a consulting job that would allow them to earn it. Meenan got to keep most of his increased salary -- $175,000.

About six months after that settlement, George Batchelor dramatically altered the equation when he purchased David Rich's shares of the airline. The price: $600,000. Jean Rich's children no longer owned a controlling interest in the airline. Why her son decided to sell his inheritance to Batchelor remains a mystery (neither man will comment), though Harrington saw it as a personal affront.

Harrington's effort to create a board of directors that Meenan and Batchelor didn't dominate also came to naught. The men tried to block the appointment of a fifth director, and when he was finally appointed, they trampled the settlement agreement by meeting privately and changing the company's bylaws so that Harrington, her brother Stephen, and the fifth director could not hold an official meeting without Meenan or a Batchelor proxy in attendance. The two men then simply refused to attend board meetings in Harrington's presence.

Her lawyer, Scott Silver, demanded that the probate judge enforce the settlement and strike the altered bylaws. But Judge Robert Newman, who had never acted decisively in the case, referred the matter to a "special master" who conducted a 30-hour hearing. The recommendation: Judge Newman should grant nearly all of Silver's demands. Meenan and Batchelor successfully appealed the appointment of a special master and forced the case back to Newman's court. But it did not stay there long.

Judge Newman tossed the dispute over to civil court, reasoning that it now involved arguments over company management, not disagreements about a will. Linda Harrington has been forced to start over in a new setting with a new judge, and that has given Meenan and Batchelor a new theater for combat. The two men have fought Harrington in other courtrooms as well. Meenan sued to foreclose on her house only months after she bought it from the estate. That suit was dismissed. The stepfather also has sued his stepson Stephen for a $10,000 debt; the suit is pending. Batchelor has sued to acquire the voting rights that Rich's children enjoy, and Meenan has sued to undo restrictions Jean Rich placed in her will that prohibit him from selling his shares of the company to anyone but her children.

The building that has housed Rich International Airways since its founding is soon to be bulldozed to make way for airport expansion, and the company has already moved on, having relocated most of its operations to an office building at NW 36th Street and 63rd Avenue. Rich International's cheery new newsletter, Charter Chatter, hails the move as a symbol of the airline's ability to overcome obstacles.

And indeed the airline has much to boast about. Since Jean Rich's death, revenues have grown enormously, from $25 million at the end of 1991 to more than $150 million by the end of 1995. It has no long-term debt. Its fleet of leased and owned airplanes has increased to twenty. And today it is the second-busiest charter service flying out of Miami International Airport, having carried 19,307 passengers in 1995.

But profits have not kept pace with revenues. Jean Rich reported an $810,000 after-tax profit on $25 million in revenues in 1991. But under Bill Meenan, despite earning twice and three times the revenue from 1993 to 1994, profits only slightly increased. For example, the airline reported only $1.07 million in after-tax profits in 1993 on $98 million in revenues.

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