Pilot of jet in 2005 Teterboro crash sentenced to 6 months
Monday, August 22, 2011 Last updated: Monday August 22, 2011, 7:20 PM
BY NICK CLUNN
A former pilot who operated a charter jet that crashed on takeoff from Teterboro Airport in 2005 was sentenced Monday to six months in prison after admitting that he and his cohorts flew illegal flights and falsified safety records.
RECORD FILE PHOTO
The pilot of this charter jet that crashed in 2005 has been sentenced to six months in prison.
Francis Vieira, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh in Newark to serve six months of house arrest upon his release.
The sentencing followed a hearing last year in which Vieira admitted that, more than two dozen times, he altered weight-and-balance graphs for the jet that crashed in February 2005. The calculations are critical to safety and are required of pilots before flights.
Vieira faced up to six months in prison after oral arguments Monday helped Cavanaugh determine the severity of Vieira’s actions. Cavanaugh issued the harshest sentence possible despite Vieira’s pleas that he be spared prison time.
Dressed in a black sports jacket and khakis, Vieira stood to address Cavanaugh with tears in his eyes. He said he deeply regretted his actions and implored Cavanaugh to consider the financial and emotional burden his family has endured during the two years it has taken for his case to reach a conclusion. Vieira said the experience has been worse than his recent bout with cancer.
“Have mercy on me,” Vieira pleaded. “Have mercy on my family.”
But Cavanaugh, who admitted several times that he has struggled with the case, said incarceration was appropriate. There was a need to deter other pilots from committing similar acts, he said.
“Protection of the public is paramount,” Cavanaugh said.
Members of Vieira’s family, who sat in a row behind Vieira, wept as Cavanaugh handed down his sentence. The judge said Vieira should serve time close to home and that he will have at least 60 days before reporting to prison.
Scott McBride, an assistant U.S. Attorney, failed to persuade Cavanaugh to order Vieira to pay $4.4 million in restitution to passengers on flights for which Vieira had altered records.
If Vieira successfully completes three years of supervised release following house arrest, he will be allowed to fly again, the judge said.
At a hearing last year, Vieira pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to defraud the United States by impeding efforts by the Federal Aviation Administration to regulate commercial aviation.
Vieira admitted that he and his co-conspirators flew several dozen flights for Platinum Jet, many of which were for famous athletes, musicians and other well-known people, despite not having an FAA-issued certificate permitting the company to fly commercial charter flights. He also admitted that he and others falsified flight logs to indicate that certain flights were private as opposed to charter flights with paying passengers. The falsified logs enabled the company to conceal that a captain was not qualified to fly charter flights, among other violations.
Fourteen people were injured when the jet overran a runway, plowed through a fence and raced across six lanes of Route 46 on Feb. 2, 2005. The plane struck two cars before it smashed into a clothing warehouse and caught fire.
Platinum’s former president, Michael Brassington, was found guilty in November of endangering the safety of an aircraft in flight. Prosecutors said the company’s jets were regularly overfueled at airports where fuel was cheaper, making them dangerously overweight. Brassington’s younger brother Paul, a company executive, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The Brassingtons are scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 20.
A third executive, Joseph Singh, was sentenced Aug. 16 to probation and ordered to pay $200,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to a fraud charge. Singh admitted that an unqualified pilot was flying the jet.
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