Newsmakers 2009: Platinum Jet execs, employees indicted on conspiracy charges
When a Challenger 600 operated by Platinum Jet Management crashed on takeoff from Teterboro Airport in February 2005, the accident attracted intense FAA scrutiny of the issue of operational control. In addition, it resulted in the indictment this year of seven executives and employees of the now-defunct charter operator and conviction of two of the group.
Indicted in February 2009 on charges of conspiracy and making false statements were Platinum Jet Management president Michael Brassington, 35; his brother and v-p Paul Brassington, 29; managing member Andrew Budhan, 42; director of maintenance Brien McKenzie, 42; director of charters Joseph Singh, 42; and pilot Francis Vieira, 59. A superseding indictment handed down on November 22 included Platinum Jet contract pilot John Kimberling.
Kimberling and Carlos Salaverria were at the controls of the ill-fated twinjet, which failed to lift off, left the end of Runway 6, crossed Route 46, hitting cars along the way, and slammed into the side of a clothing warehouse, where it burst into flames. Five of the eight passengers, along with “cabin aide” Angelica Calad-Gomez, escaped with minor injuries, as did a warehouse employee.
The original indictment alleged “a conspiracy to commit continuous willful violations of regulatory requirements for the operation of commercial charter aircraft” and charged the “conspirators” with operating Platinum Jet as an on-demand commercial jet charter company without having a Part 135 certificate. It also accused the Platinum Jet employees of routinely undertaking and concealing dangerous fueling and weight distribution practices, one of which existed on the Challenger that crashed at Teterboro.
In June, Andrew Budhan, a cofounder of Platinum Jet, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud charter customers and brokers and to impede and obstruct the FAA. He is scheduled for sentencing on February 2.
Singh pleaded guilty on July 7 to “a conspiracy to defraud charter customers and brokers and to impede and obstruct the FAA.” He is scheduled for sentencing on April 5.
Most recently, John Kimberling, as well as the Brassingtons, McKenzie and Vieira, were named in a 27-count superseding indictment adding charges to the original indictment. All five have been arraigned and pleaded not guilty.
According to U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, Kimberling was charged with joining a conspiracy “to defraud charter flight customers, jet charter brokers and the FAA through interstate wire communications, and to defraud the United States by impeding and obstructing the FAA’s regulation of commercial aircraft in the United States.”
A trial date for the five has been set for January 20.