United Airlines CEO, others reach settlements in 'beach scraping' case

After I-TEAM investigation, homeowners don't admit guilt but agree to pay state

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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – The state has accepted settlement agreements from four wealthy oceanfront homeowners in St. Johns County after the I-TEAM uncovered evidence they had excavated sand from a public beach to protect their own private properties.

Based on new documents obtained by the I-TEAM, the four Ponte Vedra Beach residents -- which include United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, Web.com CEO David Brown, UBS Financial Managing Director Chris Aitken and businesswoman Margaret Conolly -- have all reached separate agreements with Florida's Department of Environmental Protection.

DOCUMENTS: Munoz settlement | Brown settlement | Aitken settlement | Conolly settlement

While the state had proposed each homeowner pay $58,625 for the environmental damage done, which would have totaled $234,500, it has accepted agreements from each for far less. In the agreements, all four said this settlement "does not constitute admission," but they have agreed to pay the following amounts:

Munoz: $24,000 by July 20, 2018 
Brown: $24,000 by July 26, 2018
Aitken: $33,000 by July 27, 2018 
Conolly: $24,000 by July 26, 2018

Back in March, the I-TEAM was the first to show you video evidence from an anonymous whistleblower of two earth movers scooping sand from the public beach and hauling it toward the four private homes. 

Tracks were left behind in the sand near the restored dunes indicating bulldozers and other machinery were used to scrape sand from the existing beachfront. DEP then launched its own investigation into the possible environmental violations. 

The I-TEAM asked DEP about the people hired to do the "beach scraping." A DEP statement said the following:

"Results from staff investigation into the contractor(s) involved were inconclusive; a liable party was unable to be identified."

Like much of the beachfront in Northeast Florida, the dunes along the beach on Ponte Vedra Boulevard near Solana Road were largely wiped out by Hurricanes Matthew and Irma. In order for beachfront residents to move or restore stand, they're required to seek permission from the state. 

The I-TEAM has reached out the homeowners involved through their attorneys. We'll update this story when we receive their responses.

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