Michael Francis Brassington, the pilot arrested two weeks ago on felony charges in the February 2005 crash of a Challenger business jet at New Jersey's Teterboro Airport, flew illegal charter flights for corrupt Premier Michael Misick of the Turks & Caicos Islands on Gulfstream jets owned by a former White House aide to President Bill Clinton.
A British Commission of Inquiry into corruption in the Turks & Caicos Islands last week heard testimony that former Guyanese military pilot Brassington, currently facing a 23-count indictment in Federal Court in Newark for endangering passengers lives, has since several months after the Challenger jet crash been in business with Misick, who was just forced to resign, using jets provided by Jeffrey Watson, a former Clinton Aide and now a Washington lobbyist.
The Commission heard testimony that Brassington and Turks & Caicos Premier Michael Misick conspired to induce the island's government to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a month to Watson to lease two high-end Gulfstream III luxury business jets.
The men engineered an air charter deal that paid Watson more than $160,000-a-month from the coffers of the Turks & Caicos' nearly-bankrupt government, which was at the same time eliminating all student scholarships.
Watson is a former housing official in Miami who became a Special Assistant t0 Clinton in the White House, where he was responsible for doling out $75 million in Federal government largesse after the devastation of Hurricane Andrew.
"The hurricane plan was shaped in part by Florida's insider at the White House: Jeffrey Watson," reported the April 29 1993 Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.
"Lifestyles of the Rich & Shameless"
The British Commission of inquiry probe uncovered evidence of massive corruption by Misick, whose assets of $50,000 when he took office six years ago multiplied like loaves and fishes on steroids from A-Rod's cousin in the Dominican Republic until today he is worth an estimated $80 million, according to the testimony of his estranged wife, Hollywood actress Lisa-Raye McCoy.
The inquiry also revealed that Brassington, a former Guyanese military pilot with a very checkered U.S. aviation career, continues to fly illegal charter flights in and out of the United States despite government sanctions by both the FAA and NTSB which have included rare emergency cease-and-desist orders as well as orders affirming the emergency revocation of his pilot’s license.
Aviation observers have long been puzzled as to what, or who, has been keeping Brassington flying. Some no doubt suspected he had high-level government connections.
They point to his seeming impunity with the FAA, U.S. Customs, and the DEA, despite frequent incidents any one of which would have forever grounded most pilots.
That it took Federal officials four years–and a change of Administrations–to charge Brassington did nothing to change their opinion.
Brassington had also suffered no ill effects from being the co-pilot in July of 2000 on a Lear jet which belonged to Wally Hilliard, owner of the Venice flight school which had enrolled Mohamed Atta in its flight training program earlier that month, when the Lear was seized by DEA agents in Orlando, who found 43 lbs. of heroin onboard. The event would almost certainly guarantee most pilots some state-sponsored downtime… but not Brassington.
His name didn't even appear in newspaper accounts of the bust.
Had it been known that he was flying jets belonging to an influential lobbyist and former official in the Clinton Administration, it would have cleared up considerable confusion.
"Every generation gets the Mayor Daley it deserves."
Brassington and Misick made full use of the Gulfstreams being paid for by the cash-strapped Turks & Caicos government. The British Commission heard testimony that they had used the planes to go to Africa, Switzerland, London, Paris, and back and forth between Hollywood and the Caribbean.
The Brassington-controlled Gulfstreams, including tail number N165G, were owned by Watson through Indigo Management, a company he controls, through several limited liability companies (LLC's) registered in the state of Idaho.
When a plane was transferred to Brassington’s control, the plane's registration was changed from the Idaho shell to Indigo, which lists a Florida address. The transactions were made through Rudy A. Figueroa, a partner in n Illinois law firm run by the cousin of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley Jr.
Brassington is currently facing a 23-count indictment for egregious violations leading to the Challenger crash, which left James Dinnal, a 66-year old New Jersey factory worker in a car on his way to work, with permanent brain damage after the Challenger jet ripped off the top of the call.
Dinnal had seen the plane coming as it hurtled towards them through an airport fence, after skidding off an airport runway. He shouted a desperate warning to the driver an instant before the corporate jet sheared off the roof of their car, and then paid for his heroic act by spending more than a month in a coma.
His driver-buddy publicly credited him with saving his life.
"If fatalities had resulted from the accident," said aviation attorney Mark Fava of Columbia, South Carolina, "then the US Attorney's office would have had grounds to pursue a negligent homicide criminal indictment against Platinum Jet's executives and pilots."
"Hell hath no damn fury"
Word that Brassington had a politically well-placed business partner came during testimony by American actress Lisa-Raye McCoy-Misick, the now very estranged wife of the Turks & Caicos Premier.
The duo met at an Awards Ceremony in Hollywood, but their marriage didn't pick up any Grammy's, and dissolved amid mutual allegations of biting each other in a fight.
By the time she appeared before the British Commission of inquiry Lisa-Raye McCoy had several axes to grind with her husband.
For one thing, she testified, he had given her a Rolls Royce Phantom for her birthday, which she later learned had been leased in her name. When the couple parted she discovered she was obligated to make the $6000 a month lease payments.
Perhaps more importantly, she learned that in one of her absence, a rival for her husband's affections had been giving tours to visitors in the Premier's residence, as if the house were her own.
It probably didn't help that her rival, BET hip-hop DJ Rocsi, had a racy cover on newsstands.
Her testimony was credited by observers with helping to force Misick’s resignation late last week. And it reveals that Brassington's close relationship with former Clinton advisor Jeffrey Watson…
Q. You have referred to “Captain Mike.” Some of the documents, I needn't trouble you with them now, we see reference to a gentleman called Mike Brassington. Is that the man you knew as Captain Mike?
A. I do not recall his last name.
Q. Fair enough, I will take it no further. But the process that you were going through, you said: he sent me swatches. Is that Captain Mike sent them or did the Premier send you these?
"Capt. Mike" & Jeffrey
A. They faxed me colored swatches and then that was not good enough for me, and so as I was waiting for them to send me everything, I asked Michael: where is everything. He said they sent it to Jeffrey Watson, a friend of his. And I said: why would they send it to him when I am the one clearly picking the colours; and he said: he is going to send them to you, he was coming down, he just forgot about them; because I just saw him the weekend before. "
Q. You had seen Jeffrey Watson the weekend before?
A. Mm-hmm. He did not give me anything, so I kind of was like: why did he not give them to me. I kind of felt like they were being held from me.
Q. First of all, can I ask you, how often did you meet Jeffrey Watson?
A. Quite a bit. He would come to the island. He would stay with us at the house.
MR FITZGERALD: Gulf Stream 3 N165G. You were asked to look at a particular page to see the offer to purchase. In fact, is this right, that you accept that in fact that plane was leased from Indigo Transportation?
A. No, I didn't know that.
Q. But now you have heard the evidence that was given and –
A. I have heard and I can't really attach it to Indigo but I have heard that it was leased. I heard that. I can't really say I know and remember which company.
Q. All right, but you know that when you wanted to do the refit it was not in fact done, is that right?
A. I can't really say that either because when it went for inspection, that was supposed to be the time in which all of the changes were supposed to be made but I understand that it took time to order these things and you know nine weeks for the carpet and 12 weeks for this and that. So as things were being ready, they were going to be done.
Twelve weeks of this n' dat"
Q. Is this right, that, Captain Mike, on your own account, said that the designs would have to be sent to Jeffrey Watson?
A. No. He was supposed to send them to me. He and I had conversations about them. What he did tell me when I kind of bagged him in a corner and said: hey, where are the swatches and things? He said that he gave them to Jeffrey Watson and that Jeffrey said that he was going to give them to me because he was coming on a trip down here.
Q. Did you ever say: hey, it is our plane, why can Jeffrey Watson say it can't be refurbished?
A. No, I didn't say that to him because that was none of his business and I try not to put people in our business like that.
Q. Did you ever say to the Premier: hey, this is our plane, I wanted it refurbished?
A. I did. I said why did he send the information to Jeffrey and he said to me that, you know, Jeffrey was coming done here and he was supposed to give it to me. And I said no, because he had come on a trip and I hadn't received it.
Q. The reality is that this was not your own or the Premier's plane, but a plane being leased, isn't that right?
A. I never knew that it was leased at all.