The Guyanese pilot implicated by a former Customs agent as part of a ring of corrupt Customs officials being investigated by the Dept. of Homeland Security was in the news again recently as part of another scandal, this time in his native Guyana.
Michael Francis Brassington, whose name is a footnote in the 9/11 investigation, was named in a procurement scandal over the disputed purchase by the Guyana Defense Forces of two antique 30-year old helicopters from a 'dummy' company in Delaware that sounds suspiciously like a front for the CIA, the ironically-named “Global X Group.”
The company may have no visible corporate history and a suspiciously- improbable name, but today one thing "Global X Group" does have is a whole lot of Guyanese Government cash.
The citizenry of the tiny impoverished South American country of Guyana were up in arms over the scam, which fleeced them of $1.5 million, a sizable sum in a country with a deteriorated infrastructure, bad housing, poor sanitation... and an unfinished sports stadium with an unpaved parking lot in the capital of Georgetown, which one determined blogger is attempting to shame the Government into completing.
While researching pilot Brassington's involvement in the Guyana scandal, we were astonished to discover that Brassington’s father (also named Michael Brassington) has close business ties with one of the most notorious oligarchs in the Russian Mob, Oleg Deripaska, the “last man standing” in the brutal Aluminum Wars in Russia during the 1990’s for control of that strategic resource.
This information is important to a full understanding of the 9/11 attack. Brassington’s name surfaced in connection with 9/11 because he had been the co-pilot on the drug-running Lear jet (N351WB) owned by Wallace J. Hilliard (right). Hilliard also—and not coincidentally—owned the Venice FL flight school where Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi were at the time learning to fly.
"Aluminum is a dangerous business"
Brassington's father was the head of Guyana's "state's privatization unit," and rejected bids by the local subsidiary of U.S. aluminum giant Reynolds Co. to buy out the state's interest in a joint bauxite venture in favor of selling out Guyana's state-owned bauxite company to Russian Aluminum (RusAl), controlled by Russian Mob Boss Oleg Deripaska.
"As Deripaska made his way up, 'protection' rackets run by organized crime groups were gradually taken over by law enforcement agencies," read a New York Times profile.
"Aluminum is a very dangerous business in Russia."
"Deripaska sided with them as he strengthened his ties with the country's ruling elite, marrying Yeltsin's granddaughter Polina in 2001 and creating a powerful security service of his own."
Deripaska's marriage into the Yeltsin family cemented his leap. "By the time Oleg got married, he really was representing the family," one banker with knowledge of the matter told the Times. "It's a family partnership. You don't mess with ex-presidents or their families."
Facing criminal sentences, bosses of big Russian aluminum smelters opted to sell their stakes to Deripaska and his then partner, Roman Abramovich. By 2000, Deripaska controlled over 70 per cent of Russia's aluminum output.
Today the 37-year old is conservatively estimated to be worth $15 billion dollars.
The Friends of Wallace J. Hilliard
The Learjet which Brassington co-piloted on its last run made 39 weekly flights, according to the DEA affidavit filed in the case. The flights originated in Venezuela, made a stop in Fort Lauderdale, and then flew to Orlando and New York.
An informant’s tip led to the July 25, 2000 bust, where the plane was surrounded by DEA agents brandishing submachine guns on a runway at Orlando Executive Airport.
Agents discovered 43 pounds of heroin onboard.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, it was the biggest heroin bust in central Florida history.
Law enforcement officials called it "the largest find of its kind in the southeastern United States in recent years," the Sentinel reported. Five people in Orlando were eventually convicted, including two Venezuelans.
A "dimly-lit intersection" no one admits exists
Brassington was never charged, or even mentioned by name in DEA affidavits filed in the case, indicating, at the very least, that he had a certain level of protection.
The intersection between the shady world of transnational organized crime and the 9/11 has perhaps been the most sensitive aspect of investigations into the attack.
Newspapers have ignored the fact that terror flight school owner Wallace J. Hilliard straddled both worlds.
“Wally Hilliard put P.J. Khan and Mike Brassington together back in the 90’s,” stated one authoritative source at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport. “Brassington was like a son to Wally.”
Ironically, Pervez (P.J.) Khan, another of Wally Hilliard’s shady “business partners,” is suspected of involvement in the current Customs corruption probe as well.
Sweaty glee and a Guyanese Luncheon.
Guyana, we were surprised to learn, is a country with a feverish political environment, in a near-state of civil war. Published reports nonchalantly speak of the ruling party's political opponents turning up dead, and, even worse, missing their heads.
One recent example of the kind of violence which runs rampant in Guyana will suffice. Murdered businessman Farouk Kalamadeen turned up recently after being missing for a week.
Or, rather, his head did. It was discovered in a canal, which, conveniently, was just a block away from his business.
Despite, or maybe because over-priced helicopters may seem the least of the country's woes, Guyana's chattering classes criticized the chopper transaction with a certain sweaty glee.
One of the helicopters was so old that it would soon require a complete overhaul, several critics pointed out, effectively costing the same as a new helicopter. “These helicopters are a bad buy,” protested an aviation observer in an irate letter to the editor.
“The government has wasted millions of dollars on this deal. They have been clearly misled or not properly advised. This helicopter was sitting on the ground for almost thirteen years before it was purchased.” Brassington's involvement in the helicopter purchases was revealed by Dr. Roger Luncheon, a top Guyanese official, who defended the deal by stating that before making the decision he had sought the advice of competent officials in the aviation sector like... Michael Francis Brassington, who Luncheon described as “a "Guyanese pilot living in the U.S.”
"What you want us to do? We didn’t have any helicopter and people were complaining. Now we have two and they are still complaining," Luncheon said, with an air of indignation mixed with menace.
"It wasn't me."
For his part, and despite the fact that a top Guyanese government official said he was consulted on the decision to purchase the helicopters, Brassington back-pedaled furiously to distance himself from the deal. A local newspaper headlined his account: “It Wasn’t Me!”
He said he’d tried to assist the acquisition, but, sadly, his choices had not been accepted. Still, to prove there were no hard feelings, Brassington ended his missive with an upbeat postscript...
“I would like to add that our country has a great Commander-in-Chief and a very competent Chief of Staff!”
What do you mean, you're not getting out of the chopper?
The lack of suitability of the recently acquired helicopters to fight crime in Guyana was only too obvious to many. While criminals roam in packs of dozens, the choppers only seat four, a fact only too painfully obvious to anyone who might find himself facing the prospect of exiting the chopper at an inopportune moment.
“If 25 gunmen attack a location in the interior, would the security forces fly in four men, leave them there and go and pick up another four?”
"Be careful who you piss off on the way up"
When Brassington entered the U.S. through Customs at Fort Lauderdale International Airport on April 6th, 2004, the agent on duty was a rookie Customs inspector working the night shift at the General Aviation Facility.
J. L. Sanders was the unlucky Inspector charged with checking Brassington through Customs that night. When he entered Brassington’s name into his computer, the July 2000 heroin bust came up on his screen.
Sanders confirms that Brassington was the co-pilot when Wally Hilliard’s Lear jet was busted in Orlando.
"The pilot had a lookout for heroin smuggling. His name is Mike Brassington. He had in his possession a letter from the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement stating that is record would be modified so that he would no longer receive close scrutiny from Customs," said Sanders.
"However, he still had an active record in the system. This conflict may have occurred because the letter he had was from Customs but he had a record from the DEA. This may have been an attempt by Customs to illegally override a DEA lookout."
"Red flags in the sunset is the least of it."
Nor was that Brassington's only red flag.
“In the 'active lookout' it stated Brassington was known for bringing in suspect passengers,” Sanders told us.
"He handed me a manifest for the flight from Executive Flight Support, which I found out later was owned by Wally Hilliard, and managed by Afphonso Bowe,” Sanders stated. "So he apparently still has some kind of financial relationship with Hilliard.”
Huffman Aviation flight school owner Wally Hilliard is the owner of Executive Flight Support FBO (fixed base of operations) in Nassau. Alphonso Bowe manages the facility for him.
“The charter company Brassington was flying for is controlled by a family suspected of running an organized drug ring," said Sanders.
“In the Customs computer system, the terminology used to describe the criminal organization associated with Executive Flight Support is the ‘Alfonso Bowe Smuggling Group.’
Another secret "internal" investigation
Brassington’s apparent immunity from prosecution, if not from criticism, in his numerous scrapes with authorities have made him the subject of intense speculation.
Brassington’s luck even held when he and his charter company were the recipients of withering criticism from the NTSB for their role in a serious plane crash in 2005 in Teeterboro, New Jersey.
His firm, Platinum Jet Management, had what many felt was criminal culpability in that crash, which injured 20 people, including several maimed for life, yet walked away with only a civil penalty of $150,000, half of which was suspended for two years and then forgiven.
More recently he made news because of his alleged involvement in the supposedly secret internal investigation at the Dept. of Homeland Security, which a high-level DEA source in Miami brusquely confirmed several months ago.
“Its an ICE operation, out of Miami. Has nothing whatsoever to do with the DEA," stated the Miami official. "You should check with the OIG (Office of Investigations) in Washington.”
Homeland Security inherits Customs dirty secrets
Of course, Customs corruption in Mexico and Latin America is a decades-old well-ingrained practice, historically used by political leaders for personal purposes and to pay off political debts.
Specific allegations against Miami's much-celebrated Contraband Enforcement Team (CET) were documented in investigative files obtained and published by The Miami Herald.
"They were out of control and everyone knew they were out of control, no question about it," said a Customs investigator involved.
More recently an internal investigation by the Homeland Security Dept.’s OIG five years ago into this same organization was thwarted, sources in Fort Lauderdale told us grimly, and the Special Agent in charge re-assigned.
During the '80s and '90s, it was mostly used to stem the flow of marijuana and cocaine heading for Florida. The program was beginning to fade out, but received a new lease on life after the 9/11 attack.
"That CET group had a lot of power, and Customs did everything it could to make the case go away - merits of the complaint be damned," the investigator said. "The truth of the matter was not the concern, everyone in Customs knew the truth. The concern was for saving face."
When two American-registered airplanes were busted in Mexico trafficking multi-tons loads of cocaine, and were found to have been purchased with laundered Sinaloa Cartel cash, officials were forced to re-open the investigation.
Death squads, drug trafficking, working for the CIA."
Guyana is best-known, of course, as the home of the Rev. Jim Jones' Jonestown cult suicide, where more than 900 people perished.
More recently the country has achieved a certain infamy as a regional distribution hub for narcotics shipments making their way across the country's easily-crossed border to neighboring Brazil, Venezuela and French Guiana to the wider world outside South America.
The current government also has a reputation for "playing ball" with major drug traffickers, like Shaheed Roger Khan, who, after a long career in drug trafficking, with a Chamber of Commerce-type boost from Guyana government officials, is currently on trial in New York for numerous felony drug trafficking charges.
Latinnews Daily Service reported that on June 19, 2006, under a headline reading “Suspected CIA operative arrested,” that Guyanese businessman Shaheed Roger Khan has been accused of drug trafficking, organizing death squads and working for the CIA.
Khan is known to be close to the highest levels of the Guyanese government. He boasted of bugging the telephone of the country's police chief. And he operated with impunity inside Guyana until his arrest, which only occurred after he was lured out of the country to neighboring French Guiana.
Khan, even on trial in New York, seems better off than victims of his officially-sanctioned death squads.
And so it goes.