A Guyana-born former pilot of the now-defunct luxury charter jet company Platinum Jet Management has been sent to prison for six months for his role in a conspiracy to defraud charter customer, that included him flying illegally and falsifying safety records.
Francis Vieira, 61, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh this week after previously pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to defraud the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). In addition to the prison term, Vieira was sentenced to six months of home confinement and three years of supervised release.
Three of Vieira’s Guyanese co-defendants – Michael Brassington, Paul Brassington, and Andrew Budhan – are scheduled to be sentenced in the coming weeks.
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 and continued until February 2005, the month that one of the company’s jets crashed after failing to lift upon takeoff at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey.
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, Alabama. 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,” the prosecution said.
Vieira also altered flight weight-and-balance graphs for the jet that crashed at Teterboro 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 centre of gravity 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 centre of gravity, contrary to FAA regulations,” according to the prosecution.
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.