Platinum Jet charter director pleads guilty

 - July 27, 2009, 7:39 AM

Joseph Singh, former director of charters for the now-defunct charter operator Platinum Jet, pleaded guilty on July 7 to “a conspiracy to defraud charter customers and brokers and to impede and obstruct the Federal Aviation Administration.”

Singh, 37, of Boca Raton, Fla., admitted during his guilty plea in U.S. District Court that “he dispatched unqualified or unrested pilots”–including the pilot-in-command and first officer of the Challenger 600 jet that crashed at Teterboro Airport, N.J.,
on Feb. 2, 2005–to fly charter customers for Fort Lauderdale-based Platinum Jet.
Singh faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000
or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater, that was caused by his offense. In addition, Judge Joseph Greenaway Jr. must order that Singh pay restitution to
the victims of his offense.

At the controls of the Challenger 600 on February 2 was captain John Kimberling, who was not commercially qualified, according to court records. According to the NTSB report of the accident, Kimberling had not received all operator-specific “Part 135 indoctrination, ground or flight training at the time of the accident; therefore, he was restricted to operating flights under Part 91.” The NTSB report also states that first officer Carlos Salaverria’s first-class “medical certificate was not valid for commercial operations after January 31, 2005,” two days before the accident.

On departure from Teterboro Airport, the aircraft failed to lift off from Runway 6, crossed New Jersey Route 46, hitting cars along the way, and slammed into the side of a clothing warehouse before bursting into flames. Eight passengers, a “cabin aide” and the pilots escaped with minor injuries. Two individuals in a passing car were hurt and required hospitalization.

A total of six individuals employed by Platinum Jet have been arrested and indicted on charges including conspiracy and making false statements.

Andre Budhan, a cofounder of Platinum Jet, pleaded guilty on June 22 to conspiracy and admitted defrauding charter customers and brokers and impeding and obstructing the FAA. In doing so, he admitted he and his coconspirators booked and flew some 100 illegal flights for more than $1 million. Budhan is scheduled for sentencing October 5 and faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater.

Further, Judge Greenaway must order Budhan to pay restitution to the victims of his offense. As part of the plea agreement, and under advisory U.S. sentencing guidelines, Budhan agreed to an actual sentencing range of between 46 and 57 months in federal prison.

In addition to Singh and Budhan, Platinum Jet cofounders Michael and Paul Brasington, director of maintenance Brien McKenzie and pilot Francis Vieira face similar charges of conspiracy. The four have pleaded not guilty and are scheduled for trial on Jan. 19, 2010.