Tenants at South St. Paul Municipal Airport were shocked to learn Wednesday that the airport manager they had backed during city budget cuts allegedly had swindled more than $100,000 from the once struggling airport.
Glenn C. Burke, 54, of Inver Grove Heights, appeared in a Hastings court Wednesday for his first appearance, where a judge set Burke’s bail at $150,000 without conditions.
The Dakota County attorney’s office charged Burke with seven counts of theft by swindle for stealing about $108,769 between 2009 and 2015. Burke was manager of the South St. Paul airport, commonly known as Fleming Field, from 1994 to 2015, when he left to manage two of the Metropolitan Airports Commission’s smaller “reliever” airports: Anoka County-Blaine and Crystal. At a City Council meeting Tuesday, city officials voiced their disbelief over the charges brought against Burke.
“What is maddening is how much time and effort we have all put in at Fleming Field,” Tom Seaberg, City Council member, said at the council meeting. “Every nickel we received down there was important.”
In 2010, the city considered eliminating Burke’s position due to budget cuts. City finance director Michelle Pietrick said at the time the airport was not breaking even. Airport tenants, as part of the Fleming Field Aviation Association, banded together in 2011 to raise money to keep a manager position at the airport.
MAC placed Burke on paid leave from his position following the charges brought against him.
Jim Lauria, Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing executive officer, said his office was one of those that chipped in to save Burke’s position.
“The CAF was interested in keeping an airport manager on hand,” he said.
The airport manager’s salary is $70,000 to $75,000, according to the city.
Burke was allegedly swindling money during turbulent financial times at Fleming Field, according to the criminal complaint.
Burke withdrew about $111,529 from the account from May 2009 until March 2016, the charges say. Investigators found that $70,000 was paid to GM Card Services for a personal credit card account for Burke. The city of South St. Paul does not use GM Card Services for its account, according to the complaint.
The city was tipped off about Burke’s activity thanks to an overdraft notice for a Bremer Bank account.
A city employee contacted the South St. Paul police, who obtained the account’s records with a warrant and found it had been opened by Burke in 2006 in the name of SSP Airport Fuel Co. The city said the airport has no such account.
The South St. Paul airport appears to be moving into more stable times. All the city-owned hangars are full, and interested applicants have to be put on a waiting list. Pietrick said airport operations are set to break even in the next five years. As of 2015, the airport’s operating fund had a deficit of $740,000, down from the year before.
“We are now seeing more interest in companies or people who are interested in building hangars at the airport,” she said. “The operating fund is making definite strides. The capital fund has a larger deficit simply because we just did a major capital project out there.”
Burke’s next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 21.