Teterboro Crash Trial Coverup

BRASS2010It’s hard to imagine a cover-up in a case where someone has been charged with a 27-count Federal indictment.

But that’s what’s happening  in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, where the trial of controversial Guyanese pilot Michael Brassington completed its third week of testimony last Friday, in what can be viewed as a case study about just how much of the truth can—and cannot—be spoken in America today.

It’s as if “Son of Sam” serial killer David Berkowitz were on trial for double-parking his car while committing his string of violent homicides… but wasn’t being charged with the murders.

We're not suggesting that "the boys" at Platinum Jet share anything in common with the Son of Sam. Still, take a look at them. What sort of work would you recruit them for?

The news the jurors won’t get to hear includes:

Just three days before the scheduled start of Brassington’s trial, his attorney filed a pre-trial motion asking U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh to exclude  testimony mentioning terrorism or the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

During the investigation into the crash of the Challenger CL-600 luxury jet flown by Brassington’s Platinum Jet Management, the motion revealed, the FAA’s lead investigator had an Agent from the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) “assigned” to be with him when he interviewed witnesses. 

Michael Salnick of West Palm Beach, Brassington's attorney, requested that this be concealed from the jury.

Of course, this is not the first time Brassington's name has been mentioned in connection with covert activities, drug smuggling, terrorism, and matter of national security. More on this shortly.

But first, let's re-visit the scene of the (latest) crime.

"Its always the 'little people' that get hurt."

 teeterboromishapIt started with a Bombardier ChallengerCL-600 jet running off a runway and then through an airport fence before hurtling, during morning rush hour, across a busy 6-lane highway,clipping the tops off two cars stopped at a red light,then finally embedding itself into the side of a warehouse.

 “The last thing I saw was the wing coming toward me," Rohan Foster, a 36-year-old father of four, said as he sat in a wheelchair at a hospital in Teaneck, N.J., his broken nose fitted with an oxygen tube.

He was sitting at a stoplight, Foster said,  when his passenger yelled "Look out! Look out! A plane is coming!"

A 10-ton luxury jet had shot off a runway right in front of them.

Frozen with fear, the two men carpooling to nearby jobs in a metal finishing plant watched in horror as the out-of-control jet skidded off the runway, barreled through the airport fence at 100 MPH, and hurtled toward them across 6-lane Route 46 in New Jersey.

At the hospital, Foster's father, Lloyd, said, "They ducked. If not, their heads would be gone. The plane took the top of the car off."

A moment later, the twin-engine Challenger CL-600 smashed into a warehouse- its wings snapping off like twigs- and burst into flames.

“One passenger in the car remains in a coma,” reported a local New Jersey newspaper the next day, “while lawyers wait in the wings.”

"Mum's the word 'bout Wally Hilliard"

BombardierChallenger2_090204_mnPlatinum was a “rogue” charter jet company that catered to the ultra-rich and A-List celebrities, everyone from rapper Jay-Z to football legend Joe Montana; from Bon Jovi to Pavarotti to Celine Dion.

The day before the plane crashed, in fact, Jay-Z and R&B singer Beyonce, who were apparently an item at the time, were aboard the plane as it flew from Las Vegas to Teterboro.

A fact not likely to be emphasized is that both former Presidents George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton were also Platinum charter customers.

Likely to be left out entirely is the fact that–even after the crash!– Brassington continued flying illegal charters, as  the personal pilot of the wildly-corrupt  (even by Caribbean standards) Premier of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Mike Misick, aboard a Gulfstream II luxury jet owned by a former Clinton White House aide, Jeffrey Watson, who was once called Clintons’  “go-to guy” in Miami.

Hilliard mugshotAssistant U.S. Attorney Scott B. McBride presented a carefully-sanitized version of Brassington’s identity, activities, and motives to jurors to explain why he (allegedly) routinely violating FAA safety rules,  and then lied about it to Federal officials.

Brassington’s status as a long-time employee of terror flight school owner Wallace J. Hilliard will almost certainly go unmentioned.

Evidence will not be presented to show how Brassington’s charter jet company was his  “cover” for a decade-long stint flying drug and money-laundering flights on luxury jets into and out of the U.S. for a drug trafficking operation which has been led— since at least the mid-1980’s—by a corrupt element of America’s political elite which was first exposed in the Iran Contra Scandal.

Yet that fact is crucial to understanding why—and how—Brassington was able to thumb his nose to federal authorities for so long.

"A bit of a sticky wicket, that."

 teterbro (3)Also not being addressed is the curious timing of the indictment.

The plane crash which is the centerpiece of the prosecution’s case occurred in February of 2005. Yet Brassington wasn’t charged until three years later…two short weeks after the Bush Administration left office.

It is highly unlikely that prosecutors learned anything  about the Teterboro crash in 2009 that they didn't already know by the end of 2005.

So the question becomes: Why was the Bush Administration protecting from prosecution a foreign national pilot who had flown charter flights into the U.S. in 2000 carrying heroin?

As Asst. U.S. Atty McBride is no doubt aware, he is treading through a mine field.

This explains his misleading opening statement to the jury:

“This is a trial about a company that intentionally jeopardized human lives to save money on jet fuel, culminating in the 2005 crash of one of its jets at Teterboro Airport,” McBride told jurors.

“You will hear about a shockingly reckless game of Russian roulette on the runway … with oblivious passengers acting as test dummies to increase [the company’s] bottom line,” the federal prosecutor said at the start of the trial.

"They did it because they were greedy."

Well, no, not exactly… The world is filled with greedy people. Some of them no doubt run charter aircraft companies.  

Yet the federal prosecutor would be hard-pressed to cite any other air charter company which has displayed anything remotely like the utter contempt for the rule of law shown by "the boys" at Platinum Jet Management.

Meet Farhad Azima from Iran–and Iran Contra

friends2So if they didn’t do it because—or just because—they were greedy…what then?

They did it because they could. They were protected.

Among "The Friends of Wally Hilliard," there are other cases offering an exact parallel.

Wally Hilliard's Iran Contra connections begin, of course, with Adnan Khashoggi and his henchman Ramy El-Batrawi.

But there is another former Iran Contra operative, and business partner of Hilliard's, whose history of being considered above the law is germane here.

Farhad Azima has an illustrious, or infamous, CIA pedigree. He and Hilliard were business partners in a company called SPATIALIGHT, INC, which had something to do with HD-TV chips. In any event, it no longer does, because, like literally dozens of companies associated with this operation, it has gone bankrupt,far its stock is now worth 3/10,oooth of a cent per share. 

Azima, an Iranian whose family was close to the Shah, owns a cargo airline in Miami and Kansas City, Global International Air, which was part of Oliver North's logistical network, shipping arms—including 23 tons of TOW missiles to Iran—to the Ayatollah, as well as other Iran Contra swag  left behind by El-Batrawi’s cargo airline.

Azima's relationship with the CIA goes back to the 1970's. He supplied air and logistical support to EATSCO (Egyptian American Transport and Services Corporation) a company owned by former CIA agents Thomas Clines, Theodore Shackley, and Richard Secord, which was prominently involved in the activities of former CIA agent Edwin Wilson. 

Drugs, financial fraud, the CIA, amd "seeming impunity"

Azima's company was even cited for having chartered a Boeing 707 for the PLO, who used it to ship a load of weapons to the Sandinistas. There were, presumably, red faces all around. But then…  who knows? 

What does Friend-of-Wally-Hilliard-Azima has in common with Friend-of-Wally-Hilliard-Brassington?

get out of jail free cardBoth had "Get Out of Jail Free" cards.

The story was broken by ace reporter Pete Brewton in the Houston Post.

During the Savings & Loan Crisis, a failed Kansas City bank gave millions of dollars in loans to Farhad Azima. The IRS asked the Justice Department to probe Azima's role in the bank's failure.

But, according to former federal prosecutor Lloyd Monroe, the investigation of Azima's role in the collapse of Indian Springs S & L was thwarted because of his alleged ties to the CIA.

Monroe said the CIA told the FBI that Azima was "off limits" because he had "CIA connections."

“U.S. authorities probing the collapse of a small Kansas bank in the mid-1980s had been told by the Federal Bureau Of Investigation to lay off a key figure because he "had a get-out-of-jail-free card" from the CIA."

"I was told that Azima had a get-out-of-jail-free card," an FBI source in the investigation told The Houston Post in a copyrighted story.

For his pains, Brewton should have won a Pulitzer Prize. Instead, like Gary Webb, he was run out of journalism. Today he teaches at a small college in Texas.

"A grave threat to national security."

jamesliefsanders3 Brassington’s trial in Federal Court is a ring-side seat to the spectacle of hearing eyewitnesses testify under oath about an elite group of people who have been running amok for decades.

And its always the “little people” who pay the price…

Like former U.S. Customs Agent James Sanders, who had a life-changing encounter with Brassington on the evening of April 6, 2004, at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.

On a typically balmy night, with a light breeze coming in off the Atlantic Ocean, the inbound traffic at the US Customs station at the General Aviation Terminal,   bustling during daytime, was light.

There was nothing to alert rookie Customs Agent Sanders to what was about to occur. 

“It was a Tuesday, the slowest day of the week,” Sanders remembered, “when Mike Brassington came in. He went through immigration first. And the immigration inspector had ‘top-stamped’ his Customs Declaration, which meant  he needed to be ‘secondary-ed,’ meaning given a close inspection.”

A drug smuggling pilot for the owner of a 9/11 flight school… with clout.

 N60S"I was confused. Even the tail number of the Gulfstream he flew in on, N60S, had a record in the system. Yet Brassington was waving a letter from a Customs official in Washington in my face, to convince me to expedite his entry."

“So I called the ICE Agent in Miami who was listed as the 'point of contact" in Brassington’s file, which means he was basically the lead agent tracking his movements,” stated former U.S. Customs Agent James Sanders in an interview  for a new documentary, “The New American Druglords.”

“His name was Norm Bright. And Norm Bright said I was to treat him, Brassington, as a grave threat to national security. He told me that I needed to check him (BRASSINGTON) search him, and search all his passengers.  And that's what I did."

"I didn't think of him as a terrorist suspect," said Sanders. "I just thought he was really into drugs, and I needed to check him really close.

order now! Brassington complained about his tr3atment to Jason Ahearn, a top Customs official in Washington.

And for his diligence, Sanders was fired. 

The entire episode is covered in "The New American Drug Lords.)

Since the discovery that he was the co-pilot on 39 weekly drug flights to South America and back on a Learjet belonging to the owner of the Florida flight school attended by  Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, the terrorist pilots who crashed airliners into the two World Trade Center Towers on Sept 11, Brassington’s exploits have been covered in this space (see box for previous stories).

And in just the past year, his name has figured prominently in government investigations in three different countries: the U.S., the Turks & Caicos, and his native Guyana.

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Daniel Hopsicker

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist and the author of two books on transnational crime, Welcome to Terrorland and Barry & the Boys.