CLIFFVIEW PILOT HAS IT FIRST: A charter company co-founder whose jet crashed while taking off from Teterboro Airport ducked prison but must pay $1 million in restitution for scamming charter customers and the FAA, launching dozens of illegal flights carrying, among others, Beyonce, Michael Stipe, Bon Jovi, Shaq, Jay Z and Ozzy Osbourne.
Andre Budhan, 44, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was put on probation for two years today.
He pleaded guilty to the lead count of a 23-count indictment charging him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to defraud the United States, in June 2009.
Several other co-conspirators have been sentenced, including a pilot who became a key witness in the government’s case against Budhan and other principals from Platinum Jet Management, LLC.
Budhan was a managing member of the now-defunct company, which operated for a year without a required FAA-issued certificate for on-demand commercial flights.
Yet the company solicited and flew charter flight customers without telling them the truth, Budhan admitted.
Clients included those mentioned, as well as Snoop Dogg. They also included some investment bank members — who were aboard in 2005 when one of Platinum’s charter flights blasted through a fence at Teterboro and careened across Route 46, clipping several vehicles along the way, before smashing into a furniture warehouse on the other side.
Others who pleaded guilty for their roles in the scam include Joseph Singh, the former director of charters for Platinum Jet, who admitted scheming to defraud charter customers and the FAA, launching roughly 100 illegal flights that netted more than $1 million.
In addition, jurors convicted Michael Brassington – the former president, CEO, chief pilot and co-founder of Platinum Jet — and his brother, Paul, a vice president and co-founder of deliberately ignoring FAA regulations for luxury commercial charters.
In addition to the criminal charges, the charter operator also has been fined more than $1.86 million.
Those charged continually committed “willful violations of regulatory requirements for the operation of commercial charter aircraft,” undertaking and conceling dangerous fueling and weight distribution, according to a federal indictment.
By taking an “anything goes” attitude, those charged routinely violated guidelines designed to prevent such crashes.
Because of deliberate “overtankering” of fuel, which unsafely pushed the center of gravity forward, the jet couldn’t get off the ground, prosecutors allege in the 23-count indictment.
Some of the defendants said they participated in the scheme in order to cut costs and take advantage of less expensive fuel contracts at Teterboro and other locations.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman credited special agents of the Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General for their work in the case.
“A pattern of fraud and deception is not a business plan,” Fishman said, accusing the principals of putting “the pursuit of profits over public safety…. [T]here are consequences when you break the law to boost your bottom line.”
Click here to sign up for Daily Voice's free daily emails and news alerts.