NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Ken Spirito pleaded not guilty in court Monday to 18 federal charges, all related to financial transactions and the misuse of public money.
Spirito had no comment going in or out of court.
Michael Morisi, the founder of People Express Airlines, was also in court Monday. He also pleaded not guilty.
The judge said both trials will be complex, due to the number of documents and the amount of material associated with the case.
An indictment said Spirito, the former executive director of Newport News-Williamsburg International Airport, illegally loaned state and federal money to People Express Airlines to help the airline start operating in Newport News in 2014.
It’s illegal to use targeted public funds for private investment.
The airline stopped service in less than three months and eventually defaulted on numerous liabilities, including the TowneBank loan.
After People Express Airlines defaulted, the indictment said Spirito then used public funds to repay the loan.
The indictment also said Spirito directed both the loan and the repayments through several bank accounts.
In 2017, Virginia’s Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne called it an unauthorized use of state funds.
Around that same time, Spirito claimed innocence in an interview with 13News Now. However, state investigators disagreed. They ordered the airport to repay $4.5 million that was improperly loaned to People Express Airlines.
"The Peninsula Airport Commission did not do anything wrong in using the entitlement funds the way we did, under the projects outside of normal expenditures," Spirito said in 2017.
Jury trials for Spirito and Morisi are set for November 19.
Both are out on bond. A judge granted Spirito permission to travel within the country, only for work and family reasons.