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Press Release

Former Charter Airline CEO Sentenced to Nearly Eight Years in Prison for Orchestrating Multimillion Dollar Scheme to Steal Passenger Money from Escrow

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

The former chief executive officer of a now-bankrupt public air charter operator was sentenced to 94 months in prison on Jan. 11 for her role in a scheme to steal millions of dollars in passenger money for future travel from an escrow account, announced Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Regional Special Agent in Charge Douglas Shoemaker of the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General’s (DOT-OIG).

Judy Tull, 73, of Edenton, North Carolina, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton of the District of New Jersey, who presided over the trial.  Judge Wigenton also ordered the defendant to pay $19.6 million in restitution.  Tull and her co-defendant, Kay Ellison, 58, also of Edenton, were both convicted on March 28, 2018 after a seven-day trial, of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud affecting financial institutions and to commit bank fraud, four counts of wire fraud affecting financial institutions and three counts of bank fraud.  Tull is the former CEO of Myrtle Beach Direct Air and Tours (Direct Air), which was headquartered in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, with operations in Daniels, West Virginia, and Ellison is its former vice president and managing partner.  Judge Wigenton sentenced Ellison on Nov. 28, 2018 to 94 months in prison and ordered her to pay $19.6 million in restitution.

According to evidence presented at trial, from October 2007 through March 2012, Tull and Ellison engaged in a scheme to steal passengers’ money for future travel from an escrow account by artificially inflating the amount of money that the defendants claimed they were entitled to receive, and by sending this falsified amount in a letter to the escrow bank telling the escrow bank to release the money.  The evidence further established that to cover up their fraud, the defendants falsified profit and loss statements to make the company look like it was making money rather than losing money, and sent these falsified documents to credit card companies and banks to trick them into continuing to do business with the company.

Testimony at trial established that two financial institutions incurred losses of nearly $30 million for having to refund thousands of passengers their money that should have been held for them in escrow, but was actually stolen by the defendants as part of their fraud.

Robert Keilman, 73, of Marlboro, New Jersey, Direct Air’s former chief financial officer, pleaded guilty to charges stemming from his role in this scheme and was sentenced separately. 

This case was investigated by DOT-OIG.  Trial Attorneys Cory E. Jacobs and Michael T. O’Neill of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case. 

The Criminal Division’s Fraud Section plays a pivotal role in the Department of Justice’s fight against complex white collar crime around the country.

Updated January 30, 2019

Financial Fraud
Press Release Number: 19-20