Pilot Arrested in New Jersey Charter Crash Key Figure in Caribbean Corruption Probe

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1211Four years after the  spectacular crash of a business jet at Teterboro Airport across the Hudson River from New York City  injured 20 people and left one man with permanent brain damage,  a corruption probe in the Turks & Caicos Islands heard testimony that pilot arrested last week on felony charges in the New Jersey crash was a key figure in their investigation as well.

FBI agents arrested Michael Francis Brassington in the New Jersey crash, charging him in a 23-count indictment in which he stands accused of compromising passenger safety.

The plane had just come in from Vegas. According to the NTSB, neither the pilot nor the co-pilot were rated to fly the flight they were flying.  The flight attendant had no safety training.

She was a dancer at the Voodoo Lounge in Miami.

The Challenger hurtled off the runway and across a six-lane highway busy with morning rush hour traffic. More than 20 people were injured. Authorities expressed amazement that nobody was killed.

Dozens of drivers and passengers in cars driving along the highway next to Teterboro Airport during the Challenger crash are alive today, not because of the FAA or the NTSB, but because of the vagaries of a traffic signal.

They were saved from death only because they happened to be stopped at a red light.

A four year grace period

Yet no American paper reported that Brassington, the charter company owner's and chief pilot, had been the co-pilot on a plane that made drug smuggling history in Central Florida.

Michael Brassington's shady past would seem to be germane to what happened. But it went completely unmentioned. 

Not so with the British MP’s Commission of Inquiry, which showed considerable curiosity about Brassington's ties to Premier Mike Misick.  Nor does the journalistic taboo extend to newspapers in the Caribbean.

In last week's New Jersey indictment, Brassington “repeatedly engaging in a dangerous game with passengers in airplanes loaded to the brim with jet fuel," according to the U.S. Attorney. The charges could send him to prison for more than 20 years.

Passengers he was playing a "dangerous game" with included a bevy of American celebrities from the world of entertainment and politics who flew on Platinum's luxury private jets, including ex-Presidents George H.W. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton

A month after the crash the FAA shut Brassington's Platinum Jet charter company down. It didn't faze Brassington. He just changed the name of his company and kept on hauling.

And for the next four years, that was that.

"Flaunting U.S. law"

LM-HUSBANDAs the same time former Guyanese military pilot Brassington was making headlines in the Caribbean, as well, in a Watergate-like British Commission of Inquiry was holding hearings about corruption in the office of Michael Misick, Premier of the Turks & Caicos Islands.

British Members of Parliament listened to testimony in the Turks & Caicos about an unclear arrangement between Brassington and Premier Misick that nonetheless cost the Turks & Caicos government $160,000 a month, engineered by Brassington to transfer two Gulfstream jets for Misick’s  personal use.  A British Overseas Territory, the Turks & Caicos are known for two things: white sand and an easy attitude about offshore banking.

As personal pilot and charter-broker, testimony revealed that Brassington had kept the Premier supplied with two high-end Gulfstream III luxury business jets. A third plane, a King Air turbo prop,  was also mentioned at the hearings. 

Local Turks & Caicos newspaper TCI Net News reported that this plane had been purchased for some $1.2 million, but that the plane was not registered in the Turks & Caicos Government's name.

Even though Brassington was enjoined, in strong language, by both the FAA and the NTSB several years ago from flying illegal charters on U.S. registered airplanes ever again, testimony at the Inquiry indicated Brassington was flying regular charter flights for Misick as his personal pilot, which could leave the pilot facing new charges of flaunting U.S.  law.  

Before they bit each other: "Beefing really hard."

rocsikingThe Gulfstream jets were used by Misick to ferry his new wife, Lisa Ray McCoy, a Hollywood TV actress and spokesmodel,  back and forth between Los Angeles and the Caribbean.  

The duo also took side trips to Milan, Prague, Lausanne, Switzerland, Africa and Venezuela on the government Gulfstreams supplied by Brassington.

When the marriage began wearing thin, Misick began sending his Gulfstreams to New York to pick-up BET-TV hip-hop D.J. Rocsi and fly her down to his sun-drenched Caribbean hideaway. 

For whatever reason, there is no lack of chat on the web about the Premier and Lisa-Ray…

“For those that don’t know, Lisa Raye was until recently, very married to  Michael Misick-the Premier of the Turks and Caicos Islands. A straight up lavish resort island for the wealthy ass wealthy.

"Word on the street was that Lisa Raye and her husband had been beefing really hard.

"So while Lisa Raye was in the US a week ago, Misick had BET’s on-air personality Rocsi, all draped up in the mansion in a bikini and sporting her own custom ass custom robes that were made for her visit. To top it off, Rocsi was giving tours of the mansion.

lisa33Giving tours of another heffa’s house? Gaaaangster!!”

The marriage collapsed amid mutual allegations that they had bitten each other during a fight.

Perhaps that is what led Misick's wife to fly all they way from Los Angeles to testify against him in front of the Inquiry. One small disclosure seemed most telling: Misick had the Turk & Caicos government pick up a $16,000 tab for Lisa-Raye's hairdresser.

Q. Were all the payments made to her or were all the payments made to her in relation to work completed for you and you alone?

A. No. She was the stylist for him. He wanted to change his look to compliment mine while we were doing the Hollywood thing and I had to change my appearance for the First Lady thing. So it was for both.

"Lawyers, guns & money"

brassington33Beside the current scandals in New Jersey and the Turks & Caicos, Brassington was involved in a military procurement scandal in Guyana, where he was the subject of unflattering coverage last year in the purchase of two helicopters for several million dollars that were to be used in anti-drug efforts.  Despite the rich price, the helicopters could be charitably described as "vintage."

One Georgetown newspaper called them “antiques.”

His initial notoriety came as the result of having been the co-pilot of a Lear jet(N351WB) that was busted on a runway of Orlando Executive Airport carrying 43 lbs of heroin, by DEA agents carrying submachine guns, in July of 2000.

The biggest heroin bust in Central Florida history,"  the Orlando Sentinel reported. 

In the trade, 43 lbs is what is known as 'heavy weight.” Testimony revealed that the plane flew down to Venezuela and back an impressive 39 weeks in a row. 

In the trade, that's called “a milk run.”

What makes this incident of most interest, of course, is the identity of the man who owned the Lear jet…

Wallace J. Hilliard also owned the flight school in Venice FL which had—just three weeks earlier—enrolled two terrorists from, they said, Afghanistan, named Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi.WJH

This is apparently meant to be perceived as a coincidence.

The lucrative aviation industry operates with even less  grown-up supervision than the Wall Street thieves who just looted a gazillion dollars in a criminal debacle on a scale never before seen in this country. High value contraband–money, guns, drugs–prefers to go by air these days.

FAA requirements in the air charter business are so minimal, one aviation executive told us, that all you need to go into business is a cell phone and a pair of sunglasses.

The lack of oversight may be intentional. A surprising number of politically-powerful and well-connected Americans have been tainted through their ownership of planes caught ferrying large (in some cases multi-ton) loads of cocaine into the U. S.

Oh m'gosh! B'Gosh! Cheesehead Drug Lords?

Wallace J. Hilliard is a 75-year Mormon deacon who wears gray cashmere golf sweaters with the insignia of the ultra-exclusive Augusta National Country Club in Georgia.  

He would seem to be the furthest thing from Al Pacino’s portrayal of drug lord Tony Montana from Scarface.  And he's from Wisconsin, where the official corporate motto of his  insurance company smacks of wholesome Midwestern goodness: 

"Love God. Work hard. Back the Pack."

Except its not true.

Hilliard was recently arrested for battery on one of his wife’s young daughters, we recently discovered. And although he has a "charity foundation" called West Africa Children's fund, according to people who know him in his retirement hometown of Naples Florida, he is not the sort of man most parents feel comfortable leaving children around.

Also, strangely, when Mohamed Atta came to Venice Florida, Hilliard apparently felt empowered to conduct his own foreign policy. He made frequent trips to Cuba, according to pilots who flew there with him, where he passed out paper bagfuls of Presidential Rolex watches, for still-undisclosed reasons, to the Generals surrounding Fidel Castro.

How Atta came to be enrolled in the flight school of a man who “retired” to Florida, where he had soon  purchased a stable of 30 luxury jet, has never been explained. 

Nor has the heroin bust on Hilliard's Lear jet been investigated for what it might tell us about the 9/11 hijackers' American associates and activities.

For six years the only media outlet following his activities is the one you're currently reading.

A special interest in Brassington?

image003Misick's own testimony, transcripts of which are available online,revealed him to be shamelessly corrupt figure who thought nothing of sticking his impoverished island nation with a whopping $160,000 per month tab for the two Gulfstreams, while his government was so broke that classrooms went  without roofs, communication systems at government offices were disconnected,  and government employees were forced to bring their own rolls of toilet paper to work.

The Turks & Caicos corruption inquiry was avidly followed by Caribbean newspapers, which reported details of venality and greed on such a massive scale that it appeared the Inquiry had been convened just in time  to stop the plunderers from carting off all the sand.

Q. You understand that there has been  allegations of excessive expenditure by the government in allegedly acquiring two jets. You are aware of that?

A. I understand that that is the case.

 Q. Did in fact the government own either of the two jets, N165G and N25SV?

A. No, the government owns no jets.

When the Commission of Inquiry began questioning him about the people who accompanied him on a flight by chartered jet to Portugal on April 18, 2007, Misick seemed eager to avoid specifics of his relationship with Brassington

British MP Alex Milne asked specifically about Michael Brassington.

“He was the pilot,” replied Misick.

“Was Mr Brassington someone who flew you on a regular basis?” Milne persisted.

“Mr Brassington is — while he is a pilot, he is also a broker, and I think he was the part owner of Aerojet,” Misick responded.

Milne: “Is he a regular pilot for you though? Has he flown you on other occasions?”

“He has flown me on other occasions,” conceded Misick.

What real journalistic inquiry might sound like

new1The Turks & Caicos Sun:

"Another 'checkered past' surfaces following Commission of Inquiry testimony.”

'US media reports claim that a former Customs agent had implicated the same Michael Brassington, whose full name is Michael Francis Brassington, as part of a ring of corrupt Customs officials under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security.  

Brassington was also the co-pilot on a drug-running Lear jet (N351WB) caught by DEA agents at Orlando Executive Airport in July 2000 carrying 43 pounds of heroin owned by Wallace Hilliard. Hilliard also owned the Venice , Florida , flight school where Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi were at the time learning to fly. 

The Guyanese pilot has been in the news again recently, this time in his native Guyana, when he was named in a procurement scandal over the disputed purchase by the Guyana Defense Force of two antique 30-year old helicopters from a 'dummy' company in Delaware.  

It was further discovered that Brassington's father (actually, his uncle)  also named Michael Brassington, has close business ties with one of the most notorious oligarchs in the Russian mob, Oleg Deripaska, the “last man standing” in the Aluminum Wars in Russia during the 1990s for control of that strategic resource."
 

"THE KAIETEUR NEWS":

"Controversial Guyanese pilot arrested in US aircraft probe"

Michael Brassington’s name surfaced recently in evidence given to the Commission of Inquiry by Misick… about named individuals accompanying him on a flight by chartered jet to Portugal on April 18, 2007. In particular, Milne asked about Michael Brassington.

“He was the pilot,” replied Misick.

“Was Mr Brassington someone who flew you on a regular basis?” Milne asked.

“Mr Brassington is — while he is a pilot, he is also a broker, and I think he was the part owner of Aerojet,” Misick responded.

Milne persevered with his questioning: “Is he a regular pilot for you though? Has he flown you on other occasions?”

“He has flown me on other occasions,” Misick confirmed.

Earlier US media reports claimed that a former Customs agent had implicated the same Michael Brassington as part of a ring of corrupt Customs officials under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security.

Brassington’s name also surfaced in connection with the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, because he had been the co-pilot on a drug-running Lear jet (N351WB)  caught by DEA agents at Orlando Executive Airport in July 2000 carrying 43 pounds of heroin, owned by Wallace Hilliard.

Hilliard also owned the Venice, Florida flight school where Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi were at the time learning to fly." 
 

new2The Turks & Caicos Free Press:

"Premier's pilot arrested in US aircraft probe"

During the Commission of Inquiry, the Premier was asked about a pilot – one Mr. Michael Brassington – who has, to say the least, a colorful record that met its end with an arrest in the US as result of a criminal probe.

"The intrigue surrounding Mr. Brassington may yet reflect on The Premier and his relationships with certain Russians… More ominously for those associated with him, Mr. Brassington's name also surfaced in connection with the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, because he had been the co-pilot on the drug-running Lear jet (N351WB) owned by Wallace Hilliard.

Hilliard also owned the Venice, Florida flight school where Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi were at the time learning to fly."

The owners of the two luxury private Gulfstream jets that Michael Brassington and his buddy Premier Michael Misick were using to advantage will come as no huge surprise.

Both belong in a milieu that is nothing if not murky; intrigue and mystery are de rigueur.

But they suggest that this is a far bigger scandal than just a "Tempest in the Turks & Caicos Teapot." 

About Daniel Hopsicker

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist dubious about the self-serving assertion of U.S. officials that there are no American Drug Lords.
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