Nineteen indicted in jet-a theft at Miami Int'l

 - March 22, 2007, 8:35 AM

An ongoing racketeering and corruption investigation by the Florida state attorney’s office has produced indictments of 19 suspects and seven companies for alleged theft of jet fuel and contract manipulations at Miami International Airport (MIA) dating back to 1999. Estimates of how much fuel was stolen or other money misappropriated add up to as much as $5.3 million. Of particular interest to business aviation, much of the fuel stolen from the massive MIA fuel farm was allegedly resold and could have gone to FBOs. There have been no reports of tainted fuel turning up at any Florida FBOs, and the pending investigation is expected to track where the illicit fuel ended up.

As reported by the Associated Press and corroborated by an industry source, the indictments indicate that roughly 33,000 gallons of jet-A per month was stolen. According to the reports, Richard Caride, a former employee of Aircraft Services International Group (ASIG)–a sister company of Signature Flight Support–was responsible for removing potentially contaminated jet fuel from the fuel farm as part of his job. According to the indictment, Caride and others arranged to have some 33,000 gallons of untainted, non-suspect fuel per month offloaded to trucks for resale. The reports indicate that, in some cases, “the fuel was mixed with diesel fuel and used in yachts, trucks and private jets.”

An ASIG spokesman echoed the AP stories, specifying that neither his company nor any of its management was charged or implicated in any way with the alleged crimes. He said Caride was fired sometime last year (though the spokesman admitted Caride worked for ASIG when the activity was going on) and that ASIG was cooperating fully with the investigation.

Also among those indicted was Patricia Nichols, the county contract holder responsible for the fuel farm, who allegedly received gifts such as a large-screen television from some of the indictees.

An industry source familiar with business practices at the MIA fuel farm said that a standard “flex” number for a facility of that size (handling some 50 million gallons per month) is a quarter of a percent of total throughput (or 125,000 gallons) due to changes in the fuel’s specific gravity based on temperature fluctuations. That’s close to four times the amount allegedly stolen.

The industry source questioned the arithmetic of some of the news stories, which reported that 2.7 million gallons of fuel had been stolen. He said, “At 33,000 gallons per month, that adds up to 81 months [almost seven years] required to reach 2.7 million gallons. Nowhere has anyone indicated that any of this goes back any further than 1999.”

Caride has also been charged with defrauding the airport authority on unnecessary replacement of some fuel farm valves and overcharging on other control valves to the tune of some $250,000 over the past five years. According to the AP reports, Caride and three other indictees are cooperating with investigators.