Michael Brassington, president, CEO and cofounder of now-defunct Platinum Jet Management, and his brother Paul Brassington, a v-p and cofounder, were convicted on November 15 of “offenses arising from a conspiracy to commit continuous willful violations of regulatory requirements for the operation of commercial charter aircraft.” The jury verdict against the Brassingtons came after nearly four days of deliberations following a four-week trial in U.S. District Court in Newark, N.J. The brothers were each convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to defraud the FAA.
In addition, Michael Brassington was convicted of six counts of rendering false statements in relation to FAA-required paperwork to conceal the fact that ill-qualified or unrested pilots were flying charter flights. He was also convicted of lying in an NTSB accident report and endangering the safety of an aircraft in flight.
The charges against the Brassingtons were related to the 2005 crash on takeoff at Teterboro Airport of a Challenger 600 operated by Platinum Jet. The aircraft failed to become airborne and crossed a highway, hitting cars along the way before slamming into the side of the Strawberry clothing warehouse, where it burst into flames. Eight passengers, a “cabin aide” and pilots John Kimberling and Carlos Salaverria escaped with minor injuries. Two people in a passing car were injured and required hospitalization.
Investigation into the cause of the crash brought to light numerous violations and led to charges against the Brassingtons and five others at Platinum Jet.
Fuel Tankering Blamed
According to witnesses and documents admitted at trial, it was Michael Brassington who “devised a dangerous and fraudulent ‘tankering’ scheme” to cut costs and take advantage of less expensive fuel contracts. According to prosecutors, aircraft would be over-fueled, moving the c-g too far forward for safe takeoff. “It was this dangerous tankering that was the primary contributing factor in the [Teterboro] crash.” [The NTSB attributed the accident to the pilots’ failure to ensure the airplane was loaded within weight-and-balance limits and their attempt to take off with the center of gravity well forward of the forward takeoff limit, which prevented the airplane from rotating at the intended rotation speed.–Ed.]
Three of the defendants–Andrew Budhan, Joseph Singh and Francis Vieira–have already pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge. John Kimberling is awaiting trial in Florida.
The Brassingtons are scheduled for sentencing on March 27, 2011. Vieira, Budhan and Singh are awaiting sentencing.
In addition, Singh’s guilty plea requires that he be ordered to pay restitution to victims of defrauded charter customers.
According to court documents, the conspiracy count carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The counts of endangering the safety of an aircraft in flight carry a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Each of the false-statements counts carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.