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SexyJet owner changes course, says he will reject PPP loan subsidy

The decision comes after NBC News reported that Clay Lacy Aviation offered its clients account credits related to the taxpayer-backed loan program

WASHINGTON — SexyJet CEO Mark Bonfigli reversed course and rejected the account credit his aviation management firm offered its clients after winning a taxpayer-backed loan to keep workers employed, he told NBC News in an email late Friday.

"I hadn't had a chance to fully understand the details of the payroll aid for employees," Bonfigli wrote after NBC News reported Thursday on Clay Lacy Aviation's account-credit program for jet owners.

"While we strongly support government funding and programs currently available to businesses, we feel it's important smaller, more vulnerable businesses and their workers receive the most benefits available from the federal government," Bonfigli said. "And so in this spirit we at SexyJet LLC have decided not to accept any benefits, directly or indirectly, from the Payroll Protection Program offered to us."

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Clay Lacy Aviation told its jet-owning clients that they could apply for an account credit with the firm because the company had received a federally backed PPP loan. The company, which also qualified for a $27 million grant from the Treasury Department's payroll support program for airline industry workers, declined to divulge the amount of its PPP loan.

Bonfigli said in a Wednesday interview that he was eager to take the credit.

"I don't know about other owners and how they operate their planes, but I can tell you this: When a plane sits like that, you're paying a fortune for it to sit," he said. "From a business perspective, honestly, it couldn't get any worse than owning a plane. It's been terrible."

CLA said in a statement last week that the coronavirus crisis has reduced its flights by 94 percent. The company makes money by maintaining jets for its owner clients, charging them for per-flight costs and using the owners' planes to run charters for other customers. The owners are responsible for paying the salaries of their flight crews. But CLA acts as a "pass through" company, meaning it actually makes the payments on behalf of the owners without taking a cut.

The account credits are a way for the company to ensure that the jet owners aren't cut out of the benefits of a loan program that covers the salaries of their flight crews. They also provides an incentive for the owners to get their planes in the air, allowing the company to earn money from per-flight costs.

Critics say that the PPP loans were intended to help struggling small businesses keep employees on staff rather than to compensate private jet owners for the costs of their air travel. The account credits serve both purposes.

Bonfigli said he won't be a part of that but declined to criticize any other CLA clients who accept the credits.

"We recognize that each company and individual needs to make their own decisions, but SexyJet LLC remains to continuing to pay its crew and staff as we do our best to navigate challenges that lie ahead for all of us," he said. "We are all in this together and committed to being part of the solution and discussion to get it right."