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Rick Scott's first job creator, Vision Airlines, charged with grand theft

It was one of the first big job announcements of Gov. Rick Scott's administration: Vision Airlines was bringing a hub to the Panhandle, promising 4,200 "direct and indirect" jobs to the region.

 "This is going to be fun. This is our chance. We are going to win," Scott said at a Jan. 18, 2011, event, promoting the economic benefits Vision Airlines would bring.

 It didn't quite work out that way. 

The airline abandoned its flights to Fort Walton Beach in less than two years. It also, local officials say, abandoned its contractual obligations to the area. 

In December, county commissioners sued the company for nearly $150,000 in unpaid airline fees.

And on Monday,  State Attorney Bill Eddins charged Vision Airlines with grand theft, according to a story first reported in the Northwest Florida Daily News. 

Eddins and Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley announced the charge at a joint press conference Monday. 

“We have charged the airline as a corporation,” Eddins said. “We have not charged any individuals that work with the airline. ... We have notified the company they have been charged, and they have indicated they contest the charges.”

The unpaid fees stem from passenger facility charges collected by Vision Airlines while operating at Northwest Florida Regional Airport from December 2010 to July 2012. Under federal regulations, airlines are required to collect the fees on a monthly basis for each airline ticket issued. 

Under its lease with the airport, Vision agreed to keep 11 cents from each $4.50 passenger facility charge it collected and give the remaining $4.39 to the county. 

“They’re required to remit that to the county within 30 days,” Eddins said. “Once they collect it, that money belongs to the county.”

Vision Airlines said they would quickly pay what it owes, but local officials wouldn't say if that's enough to avoid charges.

When the original deal was announced, Scott said a friend compared him, and Florida, to NFL coach Bill Parcells, who gained a reputation for taking over football teams just as they were on the cusp of greatness. "I hope that's true," Scott said.

-- Aaron Sharockman