September 30, 2010 - A former pilot, Francis Vieira, 60 of now-defunct Platinum Jet Management, LLC pleaded guilty on Monday to conspiring to defraud charter customers and brokers using interstate wires and to impede and obstruct the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Vieira admitted he
and his co-conspirators flew illegal flights and falsified FAA paperwork
relating to the safety and regulatory compliance of its flights, United
States Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
documents filed in this case and statements made in Newark federal
court: In January 2003, Vieira started flying as a contract pilot with
Platinum Jet, a luxury charter jet company started by four others
charged in connection with the conspiracy: Michael Brassington, Paul
Brassington, Brian McKenzie and Andre Budhan. According to Vieira, he
continued flying for Platinum Jet until February 2005, the month that
one of the company?s
crashed after failing to lift upon takeoff at
From November 2002 through November 2003, Platinum Jet did not have an FAA-issued certificate, otherwise known as a ?Part 135 certificate,? permitting it to fly commercial charter flights. Despite not having the appropriate certificate, Vieira and his co-conspirators agreed to operate Platinum Jet as a commercial jet charter company. Vieira admitted that he and his coconspirators flew several dozen illegal charter flights, many of which were for famous athletes, musicians, and other well-known individuals.
On November 17,
2003, Platinum Jet entered a certificate sharing agreement that allowed
the company to operate commercial charter flights under the Part 135
certificate of Darby Aviation in Muscle Shoals,
From November 2003
through February 2005, Vieira and his co-conspirators falsified their
flight logs by indicating that certain flights were private flights
instead of chartered flights. Vieira admitted that Platinum Jet did this
to conceal certain Part 135 violations, such as pilot qualifications and
For example, on
December 22, 2004, Vieira prepared a flight log falsely representing
that a commercial charter flight carrying paying passengers from
In connection with
Part 135?s load manifest requirement, Vieira was required to prepare a
flight weight-and-balance (W&B) graph calculating the weight and center
of gravity (COG) for Platinum Jet?s aircraft prior to takeoff. Vieira
admitted that on more than two dozen occasions, he altered the W&B
graphs for the jet that crashed at Teterboro by changing the weight and
COG printed on those graphs. He also admitted to doing the same thing
for another of Platinum Jet?s aircraft.
The charge to
which Vieira pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of five
years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gross gain or loss
from the offense. Sentencing is currently scheduled for January 10,
2011. Four of Vieira?s co-defendants ? Michael Brassington, Paul
Brassington, McKenzie, and John Kimberling ? are scheduled to stand
trial before Judge Cavanaugh beginning October 12, 2010. Kimberling was
the captain of the flight that crashed in 2005.
guilty on June 22, 2009, to the same charge Vieira pleaded guilty to
today. Joseph Singh, a co-conspirator who was once Platinum Jet?s
charter flights director, also pleaded guilty to the charge on July 7,
2009. Both Budhan and Singh?s sentencing hearings have been postponed
pending resolution of the trial.
Fishman credited special agents of the Department of Transportation,
Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Inspector
General Calvin L. Scovel III and Special Agent in Charge Ned E.
Schwartz, for the investigation leading to today?s guilty plea.
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