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When Billionaires Get Angry

"I have played by the rules my entire career with billions of dollars in projects with every mayor, every council member, every department and agency, and the unions," billionaire Rob Maguire writes in a memo to the Los Angeles City Council, the Mayor, and the LA World Airports (LAWA). "I don’t cheat the City or others out of what is rightly theirs. That is my reputation, and that is who I am. I love Los Angeles and it has been good to me."

Maguire fired off the impassioned memo last night ahead of a hearing today which may allow a fellow billionaire to compete with him in the world of aviation. Maguire runs Maguire Aviation at Van Nuys Airport, one of four fixed-base operators (FBO) allowed to sell fuel to outside aircraft at the airport. Across the runway, billionaire David Murdock owns Castle & Cooke Aviation, and now Murdock is seeking to turn his operation into an FBO. As I reported earlier this month, Maguire is suing Castle & Cooke for allegedly running an FBO illegally for years, ripping off the other legitimate operators. Not only is Maguire angry at what he says are past transgressions - he claims to have the photos to prove it - he's even angrier that Murdock might be allowed to go legitimate, and have his rent reduced in the process.

"Our issue is simple: one bad apple at the world's largest general aviation airport can spoil it for everyone," Maguire writes. "This is not a battle between billionaires; it is about millions of dollars not going to the airport. This is not about fear of competition. This is about a public agency not taking a tenant's lease violations seriously…costing the city and taxpayers millions in the process."

Calling Castle & Cooke Aviation a "rogue operator", Maguire says the four FBOs at Van Nuys currently pay a total of $3.5 million in rent, while Castle & Cooke would only have to pay $296,000 a year, half its current rent (it is a much smaller operation). In exchange for the reduced rent, Castle & Cooke is spending more than $12 million on construction and improvements.

No word yet on Castle & Cooke's response. Earlier the company told us the Maguire lawsuit is without merit.

Whichever side loses in this battle, the city and the airport authority could face a lawsuit at a time when the airport is reportedly running at a deficit. Maguire himself will be testifying before the airport authority this afternoon, a sign of how seriously he's taking the case. It's unlikely David Murdock will appear, but that would be something. Imagine the rare sighting of two of the richest men in the America in the same room, something you usually only see at charity events. Charitable would be the last word to describe this gathering.

UPDATE: Late today, the airport authority delayed a decision on Castle & Cooke until October 5th.

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