HOUMA, La. - A former Houma flight-school owner was ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to people who accused him of scamming money and services from them in 2009.
Clyde Jewett, 45, of Miami, was arrested in December 2009 after taking more than $250,000 from business owners and clients through a flight school he co-owned, police said.
Jewett, along with his then-partner Zachary French, bought Johnston Flight school from local aviator and attorney Darryl Christen in November 2008. The school appeared to thrive for a while, but in September 2009 the business partners left Houma, citing financial problems.
Jewett and French then tried to start a similar operation in Monroe but were stopped when Terrebonne officials said they realized a recurring pattern of unpaid bills. Jewett was later put in jail on a racketeering charge but was released after a Terrebonne grand jury failed to indict him. Prosecutors then changed the charges to 17 counts of theft of more than $500.
Last week, Jewett pleaded guilty to six counts of theft of more than $500 after an agreement was reached with prosecutors. Judge Timmy Ellender gave him an eight-year suspended sentence, as well as seven years probation.
On Friday, Ellender ordered Jewett to pay $77,500 in restitution to Christen, who alleged the pair owed him thousands in unpaid bills and for maintenance of a rented aircraft. Ellender also ordered Jewett to pay $60,000 to Russell Redmond, who owned the airport hangar the school was run out of, as well as an aircraft used to teach.
Finally, Jewett was ordered to pay Leonard Spears, Dewitt Ladner and Landon Leonard, his former customers, thousands for services he promised but did not provide.
While announcing the amounts, Elleneder reiterated several times that the awarded amounts may not reflect the actual amount lost, but rather what he feels is proper in the case.
Part of Jewett's plea says he is not to file for bankruptcy while he is on probation.
Terrebonne Assistant District Attorney Brad Doyle said he felt Ellender was “extremely fair with everyone.” While there were other victims, Doyle said those who were awarded the money were the ones who consistently answered subpoenas and followed the case as he prepared for trial. Others, he said, did not respond when prosecutors contacted them.
After Ellender's decision, Ladner said he was unhappy. The judge awarded him $27,000, though Ladner said he lost $37,000 because of Jewett and French's actions.
Leonard said the $15,000 he received was “better than what I thought I was going to get,” adding that he lost about $28,000. Redmond and Spears were not present at the proceeding, while Christen declined to comment.
Thomas Calogero, Jewett's attorney, said the money awarded to Spears and Christen was more than what they actually lost, pointing to court papers he filed before Ellender's decision. In the paperwork, it says Christen, when claiming how much money he lost, did not take into account repairs his client made to an aircraft after the company was purchased.
Calogero also said Spears had received the training he purchased but was claiming losses because he did not get his pilot's license.
During Friday's court proceedings, Calogero objected to the judge's decision and later said he is likely to file a motion to reconsider the restitution.
Several lawsuits were filed in the wake of Jewett's arrest. A suit filed by the Houma-Terrebonne Airport Commission was settled out of court, while another filed by Ladner ended with Judge Randy Bethancourt ordering Jewett to pay more than $77,000 in lost money and damages.
Ellender also said those who win money in civil suits cannot also get additional money from restitution, and vice versa.
To date, French has not been arrested. Ellender said he is out of the country, but a warrant is still out for his arrest.
Staff Writer Eric Heisig can be reached at 857-2202 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @HeisigHCDC.