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Popular helicopter flight school takes off with tuition, donations from disabled vets, paraplegics

Posted at 8:01 PM, May 11, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-13 09:57:03-04

Students of a popular Colorado flight school say they paid thousands of dollars upfront, but never received the training they were promised.

"One by one the instructors started leaving and then they started losing helicopters," said student Derek Langjahr.

Students slowly began to see the writing on the walls, but never expected the worst.

TYJ Global, formerly Rotors of the Rockies, was once a top flight school in the state. After a name change and a move to Fort Lupton, TYJ launched a nonprofit named Return Flight. Its mission was to provide an opportunity for disabled veterans and paraplegics to learn how to fly, and help reintegrate them into the workforce.

"I was very passionate about aerial photography and I really wanted to fly," said Langjahr, who was left without the use of his legs after a snowboarding accident.

Return Flight promised to cover training and housing costs for Langjahr, and guaranteed employment after he completed his training. Langjahr was told his only expense would be a $10,000 HeliLeg.

A HeliLeg is a system allowing paraplegics to operate helicopters despite their paralysis. For Langjahr, the HeliLeg meant an opportunity to pursue multiple dreams -- aerial photography and flying.

Langjahr "just kind of went for it," leaving his fiancée and family in California, even putting his graduate degree on hold in order to move to Colorado. When Langjahr got to Colorado, he learned Return Flight also wanted to use him as someone who could help market their business.

"Basically they wanted to use my story to … inspire other people that were paralyzed or other people that had been hurt. Mainly veterans, but also civilians because I was a civilian," Langjahr told CALL7 Investigator Keli Rabon. 

TYJ Global, the flight school that administered Return Flight, was also an attractive destination for aspiring helicopter pilots like Eva Cameron. After four and a half years of saving, Cameron could finally afford to pursue her dream of flying.  

During a meeting with TYJ's owner, Regina Fyola, Cameron got a taste of what she hoped her future would entail.

"I went up in the air, they let me just get a little bit of my hands on the instruments. It was incredible. I mean,  'This is it. This is what I need to do,'" Cameron remembered.

There was no question for Cameron, who paid $20,000 for 50 hours of flight training.

"It was worth it to me. This is my dream," she said.

But for both Cameron and Langjahr, their dreams were put on hold as flight time at TYJ and Return Flight became nearly impossible to schedule. The students said they started noticing suspicious behavior and were even cautioned by staff members that business operations were suffering.

Cameron told Rabon, "Everybody was telling me, 'Try to get your money back and run while you can.'"

Eventually dozens of students like Langjahr and Cameron, many of whom paid for lessons upfront, were left without training or their money. Langjahr told Rabon he "never even got a working HeliLeg."

Students say that Regina Fyola is to blame because she was responsible for running the finances for both TYJ and Return Flight. After draining the business accounts, Fyola disappeared, making it nearly impossible for former students to contact her.

"It took me maybe 30 times to finally get a hold of her. Like 30 phone calls," Cameron told Rabon of her attempts.

But her questions were never answered, leaving her with the realization that her training at TYJ would remain incomplete. Having flown only five of the 50 hours she paid for, Cameron knew she had to move on.

"The $20,000 that I gave to Gina, that's gone. The money is gone. I don’t have it, she doesn’t have it. It's gone. I have no education," said Cameron.

But the students may not have been the only victims. Return Flight's business partner, Stewart McQuillan, claims to have lost nearly $40,000 invested in the nonprofit. He suspects the money wasn't just lost, but rather taken.

 "I found out that Gina had actually been using my credit card numbers to get money, to pay bills," he told Rabon.

McQuillan was highly involved in the nonprofit, as well as the day to day operations of TYJ. And with Fyola remaining unresponsive, students reached out to him for answers.

"I acted a bit as a CRO, complaints resolution officer," said McQuillan, "You know, and people came in, I would try to mediate and act as a buffer."

Students also suspect there may have been a co-mingling of funds between the nonprofit Return Flight and TYJ.

When he paid for his HeliLeg, Langjahr thought the money was going to Return Flight. But after the $10,000 was processed Langjahr said his parents noticed something odd on their bill.

"They looked at their credit card statement, and it went straight to TYJ. So who knows where that money went."

 Some former students are convinced that McQuillan knows more than he claims.

"They were always together. Always having meetings.  Always talking with each other. So it's hard for me to really say that he was completely oblivious to what was going on," Langjahr said of McQuillan.

When Rabon asked McQuillan how he was able to work with Fyola without noticing the missing funds he explained, "Gina was very much the office side, and the money. I didn't see a need to question. I believed her to be honest."

Langjahr isn't so optimistic. Instead, Langjahr is preparing to move back to California.

"Time keeps moving, and I’m getting older. I really want a career. I want to do something with my life," he said.

He's leaving without an education or a job, but Langjahr says he's walking away with a bittersweet lesson.

"There's plenty to learn from this situation that will benefit me in the future, but, I mean, it still is disappointing," said Langjahr.  

There are two pending lawsuits against Fyola and TYJ, filed by former students and investors in addition to an open securities investigation filed by the State of Colorado for investment fraud.