NEWARK, N.J. – Two officials of a Florida-based charter jet company charged in connection with a 2005 crash at Teterboro Airport pleaded not guilty in federal court Wednesday.
Joseph Singh and Brien McKenzie were the first of six former officials of Fort Lauderdale-based Platinum Jet Management to make court appearances in New Jersey since being indicted last month. The remaining four are scheduled to be arraigned later this month.
Platinum is accused of repeatedly violating federal aviation rules and lying to federal investigators.
In the February 2005 Teterboro crash, the Bombardier Challenger CL-600, a corporate jet operated by Platinum as a private charter, failed to take off and crashed through a fence, clipped a car at a busy intersection and smashed into a warehouse, causing a fire.
No one was killed, but about 20 people were taken to hospitals and 11 were injured, two seriously. The crash prompted the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport 10 miles northeast of Newark, to speed up the installation of barriers at the end of the runway.
Singh, who served as Platinum's director of charters, and McKenzie, the company's director of maintenance, each face one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Singh also faces four counts of making false statements.
U.S. Magistrate Patty Shwartz set bail for McKenzie at $350,000 and for Singh at $100,000, both secured by property. In a separate proceeding in front of U.S. District Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr., attorneys for both men entered not guilty pleas.
"My client is looking forward to being exonerated," Mark Berman, representing McKenzie, said. Singh's attorney, Mark Douglas, declined to comment.
According to the indictment, Platinum officials routinely filed paperwork that falsely claimed the planes being flown by the company were up to 1,000 pounds lighter than their actual weight, a violation of Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
The reason for understating the planes' weight, prosecutors allege, was to allow the company to over-fuel the planes at airports that offered cheaper fuel without going over federal weight limits.
Federal investigators concluded that the flight crew did not properly calculate the plane's center of gravity and that a decision to top off its fuel tanks moved the center of gravity too far forward.
The FAA prohibited Platinum from operating as an air carrier a month after the crash and levied nearly $2 million in civil penalties against the company.