An FBI affidavit alleges millions of dollars in funds from charter brokers and consumers were funneled to bank accounts used by Geoffrey Cassidy to support a lavish lifestyle of yachts, expensive Swiss watches and luxury real estate
As part of efforts here in the United States by the Court’s Trustee to impound a yacht in Australia connected to former Zetta Jet managing director Geoffrey Cassidy, Private Jet Card Comparisons was provided a 46-page sworn affidavit by an FBI special agent. The authenticity of the document, which was marked as “sealed” could not be confirmed, however, the case was recently covered in the local media Down Under.
Chapter 11 and 7 bankruptcy filings
Zetta Jet’s 2017 bankruptcy filings in California – first Chapter 11 and then Chapter 7 – left a list of creditors 58 pages long with claims estimated to be as much as $100 million. In addition to trade creditors such as caterers and FBOs, media, including luxury magazines such as World of Fine Wine, and governments, for unpaid taxes, were consumers who had purchased jet cards or made payments for upcoming on-demand charter flights.
It’s estimated there were 113 charter clients at the time of its closure, many in the U.S. Zetta Jet didn’t provide an escrow account.
A possible FAA safety investigation
Beyond the alleged financial shenanigans found in the documents we received, there are possibly other ongoing investigations. A former pilot for the operator, which made its mark with uber-luxury ultra long-haul Bombardier Global Express private jets, last week posted on a website for pilots (above) that the FAA wants to interview him.
In January 2018, Business Jet Traveler reported Cassidy as claiming Zetta Jet’s “director of sales was bumping and adding not only blindly but falsely [flight] hours to pilots, in order to pass Wyvern and Argus trip checks.” Executives from both auditing companies dismissed the claims as being somewhere between improbable and impossible.
More luxury than VistaJet and NetJets
At any rate, the FBI agent’s statement provides the most detailed view yet of what allegedly was taking place and provide a tale of caution that consumers should look beyond glossy ads and parties and make sure they properly vet the charter operators they or their brokers are using.
In the case of Zetta Jet, many of its trans-oceanic trips cost more than $100,000 per pop. In interviews, Cassidy discussed how he was targeting UHNWs not satisfied with what other high-end providers such as VistaJet or NetJets were offering. He claimed its Global 6000s were averaging 120 flight hours per month. It was champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Reports said, Mariah Carey, Floyd Mayweather, Connor McGregor and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson were charter clients.
According to a 2016 article by the South China Morning Post, when a passenger chartered a Zetta Jet aircraft for a flight from South Africa he ordered caviar only available in Europe. Zetta Jet sent staff to source and fly in the caviar from Geneva. The total tab for caviar alone was US$150,000.
“We can make it happen,” said Cassidy, adding, “We do have some weird and wonderful requests, and we go out of our way to do it.”
– Geoffrey Cassidy, the Managing Director, and his wife Miranda June Tang Kim Choo, the Human Resources Director, were the owners of Asia Aviation Holdings PTE, Ltd. and Asia Aviation Company PTE, Ltd., which were private aircraft holding, management, and consulting companies in Singapore Cassidy later would own 33.4% of Zetta Jet PTE following a merger with Advanced Aircraft Management (AAM).
– James N.H. Seagrim, a commercial pilot, 50% owner of AAM, a private jet charter company based in Van Nuys, and later 33.3% of Zetta Jet PTE
– Stephen Matthew Walter, director of sales and marketing and 50% of owner of AAM and later 33.3% of Zetta Jet PTE. Together, Seagrim and Walter built AAM’s fleet to nine large cabin jets and nearly $100 million in annual sales.
– Wei-Hunt Yap, Zetta Jet PTE CFO
– Eunice Lee, Zetta Jet PTE Finance Manager
– Michael Ta, Zetta Jet, Interim CFO
– Charles Chaw, Sole Owner, China Knowledge
Creating Zetta Jet
From March 2014 to August 17, 2017, the affidavit we reviewed alleges Cassidy and his wife participated in a scheme to defraud Seagrim, Walter, Zetta Jet PTE Ltd., and Zetta Jet USA Inc., by facilitating the creation of Zetta Jet PTE Ltd., a private jet chartering company in Singapore of which Cassidy was Managing Director, in order to misappropriate company funds for his own personal use.
According to the FBI investigation, Cassidy carried out the fraud by taking control of all revenues generated by Zetta Jet PTE Ltd. and its subsidiaries in Singapore and the United States and using these funds to purchase personal luxury items such as expensive wristwatches, to finance the purchase and renovation of his personal residence, and to purchase a 70-foot luxury yacht (the Dragon Pearl), in violation of his fiduciary duty and while concealing his actions from his victims by falsifying invoices and account records.
A merger with big dreams
In order to conduct revenue-generating chartered flights, Zetta PTE (Singapore) relied on AAM (owned by Cassidy’s partners Seagrim and Walter) and AAM’s Certificate to register with the FAA all of Zetta PTE’s new Global Express aircraft. In July 2015, AAM filed with the FAA to conduct authorized operations under Zetta Jet. This name was used as the logo name on all new Global Express aircraft that were delivered to Zetta PTE.
In March 2016, wooed by Cassidy with plans to create a high-end branded jet card and charter operator with luxury long-range jets Seagrim and Walter agreed to merge AAM and Zetta Jet PTE and to pay themselves each $300,000.00 salary per year after the merger, the same salary the U.S. pair were paying themselves as directors of AAM.
On August 11, 2016, AAM merged with Zetta PTE when Seagrim and Walter sold all shares of AAM to Zetta PTE. AAM then became Zetta USA. Both Walter and Seagrim each received $1 million for the sale of their shares in AAM to Zetta Jet PTE, which then became a wholly owned subsidiary of Zetta Jet PTE before changing its name to Zetta Jet USA. On August 25, 2016, AAM’s Certificate was reissued to indicate its new business name, Zetta USA.
Post-merger, Seagrim and Walter paid themselves their annual $300,000 salary from Zetta USA’s bank account (formerly AAM’s bank account) at Heritage Bank in San Jose, California. Seagrim and Walter were under the impression that Cassidy paid himself the same salary from a company account designated HSBC-181 account in Singapore.
Cassidy gives himself a raise
That wasn’t quite the case. On February 14, 2017, six months after the merger of AAM and AAC into Zetta PTE, Cassidy drafted his own employment agreement with Zetta PTE and raised his salary to $350,000 annually without the knowledge or permission of Seagrim and Walter, the FBI alleges.
There was no formal written agreement between Seagrim, Walter, and Cassidy regarding how they would handle the business profits of Zetta PTE. According to the FBI, this was largely because the three had an unequivocal understanding that Zetta PTE’s profits was meant to be returned to the company for purchases of new aircraft to grow their business.
They never discussed taking profits out of the company other than for the purchase of additional aircraft. Seagrim, Walter, and Cassidy did not have employment contracts with Zetta PTE when the company was created.
In terms of billing clients, there was an agreement that the Singapore entity would collect money from clients for flights on its new fleet of private jets while the U.S. branch would collect money for its fleet of legacy jets, nine aircraft AAM was operating prior to the merger.
Wiring money to Singapore
However, some U.S. clients either didn’t want to send money to a bank account in Singapore or just simply paid their invoices to the U.S entity as they had previously done. Perhaps they believed by not transferring funds overseas they had some additional layer of protection. There were wrong.
Cassidy, according to documents reviewed by Private Jet Card Comparisons, told his partners he wanted all the revenues to flow to the HSBC Singapore bank account to strengthen Zetta PTE financial statements in an effort to raise additional capital for the company and help in its expansion plans.
Over $16 million in transfers
From November 7, 2016 through July 14, 2017, Zetta USA wired $16,424,500 from the U.S. Heritage bank account to the HSBC-181 account in Singapore, revenue from charter sales. It was in addition to any monies that were paid directly to the Singapore account.
According to the interviews conducted by the FBI, Zetta USA paid for virtually all the operational expenses, but Zetta PTE was keeping virtually all the proceeds. In addition to not reimbursing Zetta USA for the operational expenses, Seagrim and Walter learned beginning in mid-2017 that Cassidy had not paid for one of the leases on one of the legacy aircraft.
$2.66 million misappropriated
On September 22, 2016, after the U.S. partners had been paid each $1 million, Cassidy arranged to have Zetta Jet PTE pay him $3.66 million instead of the $1 million he was supposed to collect as a payout for his shares in creating the merger of the two companies, the documents state.
In-mid 2017, to prepare for Zetta PTE’s Statutory Audit, Zetta Jet PTE’s CFO Yap asked Cassidy as to the nature of the extra $2,666,666 payment to himself. Cassidy claimed that it was for transaction costs.
Cassidy subsequently gave Yap two invoices from China Knowledge Consulting (Shanghai) Co. to support his claim. One invoice was for “MSFL Loan Service Fee” and the other was for “CAL Loan Service Fee.”
The CFO was familiar with the invoices of China Knowledge because her partner, Charles Chaw, was the sole shareholder of China Knowledge and she had seen the company’s invoices before and believed the invoices given to her by Cassidy were “not legitimate or genuine.” For this reason, she did not allow the invoices to be entered into Zetta PTE’s accounting system, the report states.
Finance Manager Lee told Yap that Cassidy provided two replacement invoices for the above invoices. The replacement invoices were for the same amounts, both dated one year later, June 1, 2017. However, both replacement invoices had the same invoice number.
Keeping a secret
According to Yap, Lee said that Cassidy instructed her not to tell the CFO about the replacement invoices. Yap reviewed the invoices and noticed that they were suspicious because they had the same invoice number, did not have the appropriate tax receipt that must accompany genuine invoices issued by Chinese companies, and were not signed or stamped with the correct company logo for China Knowledge.
The report states, after CFO Yap resigned from Zetta PTE and subsequently returned to the company after Cassidy was removed in August 2017, she learned that the interim CFO, Michael Ta, had made changes to a Director’s Account which falsely showed that Cassidy had made payments on behalf of Zetta PTE to China Knowledge in an amount equal to the invoices he had submitted.
In an affidavit provided to the Federal Court of Australia in Admiralty, China Knowledge’s Chaw said from July 2015 to August 2017 there was only one transaction between the two companies, in early 2016 valued at $31,000 Singapore dollars.
Personal expenses paid with company funds
Lee told the Australian Court Zetta PTE would often pay Cassidy’s personal expenses like credit card bills and expenses for his residence in Ardmore Park, Singapore. When Zetta PTE paid Cassidy’s personal expenses, the normal process was to make payment from Zetta PTE’s accounts and record them as follows:
For payments relating to Cassidy’s personal credit cards, the finance department would as a matter of course treat all of the transactions as company expenses.
If the finance department was given information that any transactions on Cassidy’s credit cards were personal to him, the finance department would deal with such transactions in the company’s book accordingly.
If the payments were not accompanied by supporting documents (e.g., an invoice), the finance department would enter such payments into Zetta PTE’s “director’s account” as amounts owing from Cassidy to Zetta PTE.
Cassidy would then have to provide the relevant supporting documents to show that these payments were company expenses after which the amounts were treated as such.
If the payments were accompanied by supporting documents but it was clear that these were personal expenses and not company expenses, the finance department would also enter such payments into the Zetta PTE Director’sAaccount as amounts Cassidy owed to Zetta PTE.
This was a usual occurrence for certain types of transactions like payments relating to Cassidy’s residence in Ardmore Park, according to the FBI report
Wiping the books
On June 5, 2017, Cassidy sent an email to Lee and Yap directing them to remove the $2.66 million that had been logged into the Director’s Account from the sale of AAC as money that Cassidy owed Zetta PTE.
Cassidy also instructed Lee and Yap to “Remove all Dragon Pearl and property and furniture expenses and send to me. Remove the 2.66m as this is invoiced out.”
Zetta Jet’s MD gets a $5.9 million apartment
The FBI’s affidavit then notes, between July 2015 and August 2017, Cassidy and Tang paid approximately $1 million from Zetta PTE’s HSBC bank accounts for the purchase and remodeling of their private residence at Ardmore Park apartment in Singapore. Real estate records purportedly show the property was transferred to Cassidy from Botanica Pte, Ltd for $5,904,780 (SGD).
The report says, Cassidy and Tang incurred approximately $1.3 million (SGD) in personal expenditures on both their corporate and personal credit cards, all of which they claimed reimbursement from Zetta PTE’s HSBC bank accounts.
$329,563 for Richard Mille luxury watches
Cassidy used Zetta PTE funds to reimburse himself for the purchase of two watches purchased from Richard Mille of Beverly Hills for $329,563 (SGD).
If customers only saw a luxury private jet operator with luxurious jets with glossy magazine ads hosting splashy events for their UHNW and celebrity clients who used the planes to fly between the U.S., Asia and Europe nonstop, Cassidy’s partners said they were also in the dark.
Seagrim and Walter had no prior knowledge about Cassidy’s use of Zetta Entities’ funds to finance the Ardmore Park apartment until Yap alerted them to the expenditures in August 2017.
While they had seen Cassidy wearing his watch, they didn’t know that it was from Richard Mille nor how much it cost.
Who paid for the boat trip?
They say they only found out about the purchase of the Dragon Peark in late 2016, when they were informed by pilots who worked for the Zetta and flew Cassidy and several others on a 10 hour flight to Australia on a Zetta PTE jet to take delivery of a yacht.
Cassidy told Seagrim and Walter that this trip to Australia was being paid for by Bombardier to attend a trade show in Australia. Seagrim and Walter later learned that this was not true. Bombardier only paid for a two-hour demo flight. Seagrim also told the FBI Cassidy claimed he was financing the purchase of the yacht through a bank.
After buying the yacht, Cassidy allegedly created a Marshall Islands Company, to conceal his ownership of the yacht.
Cassidy uses customer payments to buy a yacht
For consumers who lost money in Zetta Jet’s meltdown take heart. Cassidy used a $1,406,383.02 payment for business services, likely charters, from highly respected California-based charter operator and broker Clay Lacy Aviation to pay for the deposit and third installment on the Dragon Pearl instead of keeping it in company coffers.
On December 28, 2017, Cassidy filed an affidavit in the High Court of the Republic of Singapore claiming that the yacht was to be used to entertain clients in addition for his personal use. He also said the use of Zetta Jet PTE were offset against money the company owed him.
No validations for Cassidy’s claims
The FBI said in its investigation, it couldn’t find any documentation to validate Cassidy’s claims. Seagrim and Walter said they learned about Zetta Jet paying for the boat when Seagrim flew to Hong Kong to meet with Yap in August 2017.
The two claimed the CFO said Cassidy never discussed using the Dragon Pearl to entertain Zetta clients and the company barely had any clients in Singapore or Australia. Most of the clients were apparently U.S. based and came from the AAM side.
After Cassidy was removed from the Board in an August 2017 meeting of directors on September 15, 2017, a bankruptcy petition on behalf of Zetta PTE and a separate petition on behalf of Zetta USA were filed in the Central District of California.
Jonathan King, a partner at DLA Piper LLP was appointed Trustee for the Zetta Entities by the bankruptcy court. On October 13, 2017, attorneys for the Trustee in Australia, filed an affidavit with the Federal Court of Australia in Admiralty to seize the Dragon Pearl.
Zetta Jet’s final flight
On November 30, 2017, Zetta Jet shutdown operations and filed for protection under Chapter 7 of the bankruptcy code.
While Cassidy maintains his innocence, Zetta Jet’s final flight underscores that consumers of private jet travel need to make sure they compare providers beyond aircraft types and hourly rates.
Buyers need to take a hard look at who they are doing business with. Before buying, ask to speak to the CFO or the Safety Director. If you can’t ascertain the financial strength of the operator – or broker – insist on an escrow account, negotiate to split your payments or make sure you won’t miss your money if something goes south.
One lesson Zetta Jet teaches consumers is to look beyond the glossy ads and glowing press coverage.