Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Did Van Nuys aviation firm put ‘profits over safety’? Ex-saleswoman claims she was fired for complaining about threats

A former top saleswoman for a Van Nuys-based aviation firm was fired for complaining that a high-ranking FBI agent/client was harassing her and threatening to harm her family members, an attorney told a jury Wednesday, but a lawyer for the company said the woman lied about a previous relationship with the G-man.

The attorneys offered their opening statements to a Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing trial of Doreen Olson Mackey’s lawsuit against Helinet Aviation Services LLC. The firm was founded by pilot Alan Purwin, who died in a Sept. 11 plane crash in Colombia during shooting of the upcoming film “Mena,” which stars Tom Cruise.

Helinet provides helicopter services to a variety of clients such as celebrities, filmmakers, television stations and law enforcement, including local agencies as well as the FBI, according to the company’s attorney, Tracey Kennedy.

According to Mackey’s attorney, Victor George, his client joined Helinet in 2010 and eventually generated millions of dollars for the firm while handling the FBI account. Victor Grant, the unit chief of the FBI’s hostage and rescue team, was Mackey’s contact on the account and he helped her get the job after speaking with Helinet executives at a trade show, George said.

The FBI account was the most lucrative one for Helinet and Mackey, but she also earned money for the company through dealings with other law enforcement agencies, George said. She worked for Helinet from her Minnesota home and traveled extensively to generate more business, George said.

But Mackey, a divorced mother of two who had previously broken off a relationship with Grant, eventually asked to be taken off the FBI account after Grant threatened her father and ex-husband in September 2012, George alleged. He said two top Helinet executives were aware of the alleged harassment.

“They saw his behavior, they saw how he bullied Ms. Mackey,” George said.

But the executives, knowing how much income the FBI account generated, did not want to lose it and they never fully looked into Mackey’s claims, George claimed.

“They did absolutely nothing,”  George said. “Helinet put profits over safety.”

Nine weeks later, Mackey was told she was being laid off, George said. A six-figure earner at Helinet, Mackey was forced to take a minimum-wage job for a while at Target, according to George. She has been unable to get similar work since losing the Helinet job, George said.

But Kennedy told jurors that the case was about “secrets and lies.” She said Mackey never told her Helinet bosses about her previous romantic relationship with Grant. She also never said anything about sexual misconduct by Grant toward her, Kennedy said.

Helinet acted quickly when Mackey complained and the FBI agent was told to stay away from her, Kennedy said. Emails show that Mackey was pleased with Helinet’s actions, according to Kennedy.

Mackey sued Helinet in August 2013. Grant and the FBI are not defendants in the case.


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