Former pilot of luxury charter jet company sentenced to six months in prison for flying illegal flights and falsifying safety records
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 22, 2011
NEWARK, N.J. – A former pilot of the now-defunct luxury charter jet company Platinum Jet Management, LLC was sentenced today to six months in prison for his role in a conspiracy to defraud charter customers and brokers using interstate wires and to impede and obstruct the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), United States Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Francis Vieira, 61, of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, previously pleaded guilty to the lead count of a Superseding Indictment, charging him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to defraud the United States. He entered his guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh, who also imposed the sentence today in Newark federal court.
According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:
In January 2003, Vieira started flying as a contract pilot with Platinum Jet. He continued flying for Platinum Jet until February 2005, the month that one of the company’s jets crashed after failing to lift upon takeoff at Teterboro Airport.
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 and flew several dozen illegal charter flights.
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, Ala. As a Part 135 operation, Platinum Jet was required to create a load manifest, also known as a “flight log,” which recorded vital flight information for each charter flight. 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. They did so to conceal certain Part 135 violations, such as pilot qualifications and rest requirements.
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. On more than two dozen occasions, Vieira altered the W&B graphs for the jet that crashed at Teterboro by changing the weight and COG printed on those graphs. Vieira and his co-conspirators altered W&B graphs in order to conceal a fuel tankering scheme, whereby pilots would top off the aircrafts’ fuel tanks with discounted fuel in order to save money, causing aircraft to exceed the maximum forward COG limits. Vieira and other Platinum Jet pilots employed this fraudulent technique on at least two of the company’s airplanes. As a result, pilots flew over-fueled aircraft outside the center of gravity, contrary to FAA regulations.
The pilots, including Vieira, flew athletes and other celebrities, including Keith Richards, Shaquille O’Neal, Shawn “Jay Z” Carter, Beyonce Knowles, Burt Reynolds, Sean “P Diddy” Combs, and Jon Bon Jovi.
In addition to the prison term, Judge Cavanaugh sentenced Vieira to six months of home confinement and three years of supervised release.
Three of Vieira’s co-defendants - Michael Brassington, Paul Brassington, and Andrew Budhan - are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Cavanaugh in the coming weeks.
U.S. Attorney 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 Acting Special Agent in Charge Douglas Shoemaker, for the investigation leading to today’s sentence.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Scott B. McBride and J Fortier Imbert of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division.
Defense counsel: Neal R. Sonnett, Miami, FL