Michael Stern, JDS flew the coop on private plane bills: lawsuit

Developer says complaint lacks merit, expects a judge to dismiss

Michael Stern’s JDS Development Sued Over Private Air Travel
JDS Development 's Michael Stern (JDS Development, Aktug Ates via Wikimedia Commons, Getty)

Michael Stern’s JDS Development may be headed for a hard landing over some flight bills.

The company was sued this week by a charter flight company that alleged the developer failed to pay for private flights that jetted Stern and his associates between Florida, New York and the Caribbean Islands in 2022 and 2023. 

The developer owes more than $1.2 million to Hawthorne Finance Holdings, which owned the New York-based charter service ExcelAire until it sold the company last summer. Hawthorne retained ownership of the business’s accounts receivable as part of the sale agreement, and is now trying to collect what it calls unpaid bills in court.

“The complaint is wholly without merit and we expect it to be dismissed,” said a legal representative of JDS. Stern declined to comment. 

Stern is the ambitious developer behind the Brooklyn Tower, now the tallest building in New York City outside of Manhattan, the Steinway Tower on Billionaires’ Row and 888 Brickell, a supertall Miami condo tower to be branded by Dolce & Gabbana.

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It was a month after the fashion company was reported to be a partner in his Brickell residences that Stern flew from Miami to St. Barts and St. Martin, according to Hawthorne’s legal filings. The company claims JDS has tried to escape paying for private travel to the pricey Caribbean vacation destinations. 

In 2022, as JDS was fighting a legal battle to win approval to build a 500,000-square-foot residential tower at 247 Cherry Street in Manhattan’s Two Bridges neighborhood, Stern flew from Miami to Teterboro Airport and stayed in New York for about a week, according to a list of travel costs that Hawthorne alleges went unpaid. Other expenses include fuel costs, hangar fees, a per diem for pilots and aircraft maintenance. 

Stern’s preferred transport was an Embraer Legacy 600, a midsize jet that can fly up to 14 people and cross 3,400 nautical miles at a cruising speed of about 500 miles per hour. With two Rolls Royce engines, the plane can reach as far as London, Alaska or Peru from New York.

In an exchange of emails between Hawthorne and Stern, the developer identified $68,000 in duplicative charges while “going thru” the bills, but he apparently ceased communication with the company without paying the balance it alleges he owes.

Representatives for Hawthorne did not return requests for comment. The charter flight company ExcelAire now operates under different ownership as Executive Fliteways. 

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