Less than a year after the 9/11 attacks, a Long Island plane broker began helping the CIA transport terrorism suspects to black sites around the world. Now, the owner of that company is helping to ferry a new population for the federal government: immigrants.
Classic Air Charter Inc. was awarded a contract worth up to $635 million to help facilitate deportations. The federal government has allotted about $5.5 million for the contract so far. These contracts were originally reported in a database created by Sludge.
In the early 2000s, the owner of Classic Air Charter had a company called Sportsflight. That company was involved in the same business – facilitating private air travel – but with a different client at the time: the Central Intelligence Agency.
In the early 2000s, the CIA began contracting small air travel brokerages in order to support its extraordinary rendition program. The agency sought to skirt the legions of plane watchers and governments keeping close tabs on their planes, so it hired private companies to arrange the flights. The companies were transporting terrorism suspects that the agency had grabbed off the streets of Europe and the Middle East and elsewhere, often to be tortured wherever they landed.
The agency hired DynCorp Systems, a government services firm, which in turn hired Sportsflight Inc., a Huntington, Long Island based flight broker run by Donald Moss. The company was hired to help broker flights in early 2002, according to records from a lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court in Columbia County. The suit was first discovered by the U.K. Human Rights organization Reprieve.
Sportsflight hired a Hudson Valley company called Richmor Aviation, which operated the flights and transported the prisoners.
The program was exposed by Washington Post reporter Dana Priest in 2005. The ensuing backlash fell on Richmor, according to the company in court documents, after the tail number of one of their planes was publicly linked to the rendition and subsequent torture of an Egyptian imam known as Abu Omar in 2005, the Post reported.
The company sued Sportsflight in Columbia County, N.Y. over a fee dispute. The lawsuit unearthed 1,500 pages of documents that included granular detail about the CIA’s rendition program. Sportsflight made at least $178,145 from the CIA contracts, accord to court documents.
The fact that highly sensitive national security secrets were spilled out in a billing dispute in a Hudson Valley courtroom was not lost on the people involved at the time.
“I kept waiting for [the government] to contact me. I kept thinking, ‘Isn’t someone going to come up here and talk to me?’ ” an attorney for Richmor told the Washington Post in 2011. “No one ever did.”
After the lawsuit, Donald Moss founded Classic Air Charter Inc., which continued to arrange flights for federal government agencies, according to contract records.
Recently, Classic Air Charter made national news when Politico reported that the company was chartered by the Department of Health and Human Services to fly the former agency chief Tom Price around the country. The agency chartered a plane for a series of flights that cost taxpayers $86,000. Price also took a $17,760 round-trip flight from Washington D.C. to Nashville, Tenn. A comparable seat on an airliner would have been $202, according to Politico. The scandal around these flights cost Price his job. The company declined to speak with Documented.
ICE issued a request for quotations last year for a charter jet company to be able to broker deportation flights from several of its air travel hubs: Miami, Alexandria, L.A., Brownsville, Texas San Antonio, Texas and Mesa, Ariz. Several contractors put out bids for the job, but Classic Air Charter underbid the other top four companies by nearly $70 million. The highest bid considered was close to $1 billion.
The contract didn’t specify where the flights would travel to, but did note that the broker would have to be able to arrange “special high risk charter flights.”
Currently, Classic Air Charter has a contract potentially worth $635 million with ICE for air travel with the office of Detention and Removals. An ICE spokesman said the agreement is for facilitating deportation flights.