Five executives of a luxury private jet company and a pilot were indicted in New Jersey federal court on charges that include recklessly endangering the lives of wealthy passengers by dangerously over-fueling charter jets operated by the firm. Those passengers - who paid individual charter fees of up to $90,000 at times - included Beyonce, Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, Harvey Weinstein and renowned crime writer Patricia Cornwell, ABC News has learned.
According to a 23-count federal indictment, the executives and the pilot conspired to endanger their passengers' lives by methods that included over-fueling their planes at airports where fuel costs were low and then attempting to take off, even though the planes' weights exceeded "maximum allowable takeoff and landing weights" and shifted the aircrafts' centers of gravity dangerously forward.
On February 2, 2005, the indictment alleges, these practices resulted in a Bombardier Challenger business jet charted by the company crashing upon attempting to take off at New Jersey's Teterboro Airport.
20 people were injured in the crash which resulted in the plane skidding off a runway, through an airport fence and across a busy highway, where 20 cars were stopped at a red light. The plane then crashed into a warehouse, where it was engulfed in flames. Only the coincidence of the red-light, published accounts noted, prevented a disaster with a massive casualty count.
The Jan. 23 indictment was unsealed today with the arrest of at least four of the executives, including the company's CEO, co-founder and chief pilot Michael Brassington, and his brother Paul Brassington, the company VP and cofounder. The pilot of the plane involved in the crash was still being sought.
According to the indictment, the now defunct company, Platinum Jet Management, LLC of Ft Lauderdale, Florida, routinely used "dangerous fueling and weight distribution practices" and concealed those practices in a conspiracy "to commit continuous willful violations of regulatory requirements."
Jet Company Engaged in "Dangerous Game," U.S. Attorney Says
The result of the dangerous over-fueling practices, according to the indictment, was to tip an aircraft's center of gravity toward the nose.
According to the U.S. Attorney's office in New Jersey, "the Teterboro flight that crashed on Feb. 2, 2005, was over-fueled in a manner that caused the plane's center of gravity to exceed its forward weight limit for takeoff, contributing to the crash, according to the Indictment. The fueling practice was commonly used, according to the Indictment, to increase profits for Platinum Jet."
"It is astounding – and criminal – that owners and operators of jet aircraft would repeatedly engage in such a dangerous game with passengers and airplanes loaded to the brim with jet fuel," said Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra, Jr.
Other celebrity customers who paid as much as $90,000 a flight included music mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs, R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe, Duran Duran, Burt Reynolds, Ozzy Osborne, Joe Montana and Shaquille O'Neal.
According to sources familiar with Platinum's business records, an investigation is ongoing into whether Platinum risked the lives of former President Bill Clinton and former President George H. Bush, by allowing them to board such dangerous charters.
Publicists for Beyonce and Jay-Z had no comment.