35-year old Guyanese pilot Michael Francis Brassington was indicted in New Jersey federal court this week, as the result of an investigation into the spectacular crash of a airplane outside New York City in February of 2005, which injured 20 people and provoked widespread outrage in New York.
Brassington, the principal owner of defunct air charter company Platinum Jet Management, was indicted Wednesday along with four other company executives, charged with recklessly endangering the lives of passengers.
Brassington has survived previous scrapes with American law enforcement, each time emerging curiously unscathed. Unlike the current imbroglio, Brassington's earlier controversies were not celebrity-enhanced.
Platinum Jet Management's glittering roster of clients, many of whom were said to have suffered actual celebrity endangerment, included everyone “fromBeyonce to Bill Clinton,” according to FOX, ensuring that the arrests of the air charter execs made the news worldwide. Even so, an FBI spokeswoman in Miami declined to release pilot Michael Brassington’s mug shot.
“Charged With Endangering Celebrity Clients!" read a Fox News' headline. Celebrity endangerment may be no more serious a crime than endangering the lives of those unfortunate enough to be without immediate prospects for achieving celebrity status… but it gets a lot more publicity.
Air charter 'mishap' threatens cultural life of nation
In addition to Bill & Beyonce ( who in fairness weren't explicitly linked as a couple in news reports) Platinum clients and passengers included another former U.S. President, George H. Bush, basketball great Shaquille O'Neal, rappers Jay Z, Sean "Diddy" Combs, and Snoop Dogg, Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, actor Burt Reynolds & movie producer Harvey Weinstein, to name a few.
The 21-count indictment, which could send him to prison for more than 20 years, charges Brassington with offenses, lying to federal investigators and endangering the safety of aircraft. It alleges that the defendants, including four other Platinum execs and a pilot, joined "a conspiracy to defraud charter flight customers, jet charter brokers and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through interstate wire communications, and to defraud the United States by impeding and obstructing the FAA’s regulation of commercial aircraft in the United States."
Like the current Wall Street debacle, the lucrative aviation industry operates with almost no oversight from anyone in government. "There's been absolute no adult supervision, just like with the banks, explained one aviation executive.
FAA requirements for companies running air charter flights are so minimal, and the field so poorly-policed, one wag told us, "All anyone needs to get into the air charter business is a cell phone and a pair of sunglasses.”
High priorities, high hopes, & secret high signs
Authorities said they believe Platinum jets routinely cut corners and endangered lives.
“It is astounding—and criminal—that owners and operators of jet aircraft would repeatedly engage in such a dangerous game with passengers and airplanes loaded to the brim with jet fuel,” said Asst. U.S. Attorney Ralph Marra in Newark, New Jersey.
“This case demonstrates that ensuring the safety of the nation’s air transportation system remains a high priority for the Office of Inspector General and the Department of Transportation,” said Ned Schwartz, DOT OIG Special Agent in Charge in New York.
“Working with the United States Attorney’s Office and our other law enforcement colleagues, we will continue our efforts to uncover fraudulent activities that could compromise the integrity of DOT’s safety programs.”
On the Cabinet-level an Inspector General, or IG, is usually only involved in internal investigations, indicating that an agency of the Dept. of Transportation is being investigated, in all likelihood the FAA. So the involvement of the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General is a big red flag…
When we called Ned Schwartz, looking for a quote as pithy as that attributed to him in the U.S. Attorney’s press release, he would not answer any questions. And the question he clearly didn't want to answer most was whether his investigation had been aware, while investigating Brassington criminally-negligent air charter operations, that the Guyanese pilot was involved in a huge heroin bust during the run-up to the 9/11 attack.
Had the Inspector General's office known that Michael Brassington was deeply involved in the intrigue swirling around Mohamed Atta and the terrorist hijackers during their time in Florida?
Schwartz 'a response was to give us the name of the Dept of Transportations Media Spokeswoman, who, perhaps predictably, has been unable to find the time to respond to our phone queries.
"A grave threat to national security, but a helluva drug pilot."
As readers of the MadCowMorningNews are aware, Michael Brassington first achieved notoriety when he became a footnote to the story of the 9.11 attack as the co-pilot of a Lear jet(N351WB) which was busted carrying 43 lbs of heroin in Orlando on July 22, 2000.
The Lear jet’s owner was Wallace J. Hilliard, the secretive 75-year old Naples FL financier whose Huffman Aviation flight school in Venice just three weeks earlier had enrolled soon-to-be-famous terrorist pilot trainees Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi.
Both men had spent recent time in the world’s biggest heroin-producing country, Afghanistan, then being run by their presumed boss, Osama bin Laden.
But even though the Orlando Sentinel called the incident “the biggest heroin bust in Central Florida history," the incident has never been investigated for clues to the 9/11 hijackers' associates and activities in the U.S. before the attack.
Brassington was never charged in the heroin case. He continued to operate with seeming official impunity, according to aviation observers, right up until his arrest by the FBI this week in Miami.
Another blue day for truth: Operation Blue Lightning
Less well-known about Brassington's history of brushes with U.S. law enforcement is that several years ago he was the subject of a Multi-Agency Federal Task Force,Operation Blue Lightning; Brassington was suspected of trafficking drugs, passports, people, currency, and diamonds into the U.S. through two airports in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Tasked with tracking Brassington's movements during Operation Blue Lightning, a Customs Supervisor in Miami had even warned Customs Agents at Fort Lauderdale International Airport to treat Brassington as a "grave threat to national security.”
According to a Customs Agent in Fort Lauderdale who examined Brassington regularly as he passed through U. S. Customs entering or leaving the U.S., the investigation went nowhere after the lead FAA investigator on the case was called off and reassigned, under extremely suspicious circumstances.
Later on, an internal investigation by the Homeland Security Dept.’s Office of Inspector General was also thwarted, and the special agent in charge re-assigned.
CIA Drug Plane scandal blows Brassington's cover
However the publicity from two recent cases of American-registered airplanes busted in Mexico carrying an astonish four tons of cocaine, in one case, and 5.5 tons of cocaine in the other, have forced a re-examination.
Aviation executives and Customs officials in Fort Lauderdale said that Pervez Khan, a Pakistani national who is also one of Wally Hilliard’s “business partners,” is engaged in the same activities as Brassington.
There has been a certain amount of discreet passing-the-buck at the DEA in the form of denials by officials there of either any DEA investigation or involvement in the case.
A top DEA official in Miami stated there is no DEA investigation ongoing because the case involves corruption in a U.S. Custom’s “rogue operation,” which is properly investigated internally by the Inspector General’s Office in the Dept. of Homeland Security.
However, the MadCowMorningNews has learned that the existence of any federal investigation in the scandal remains a matter of speculation. An official in the Dept. of Homeland Security’s Inspector General’s office, Tamara Faulkner, told the MadCowMorningNews in a phone call last week that the Department’s practice is to neither confirm nor deny the existence of any internal investigation conducted by the Inspector General’s office.
Two American planes got caught red-handed carrying a total of almost ten tons of cocaine, easily worth a half-billion dollars. No Americans were ever charged with any crime.
Maybe that’s why the DEA says there are no American Drug Lords.