News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri Jan. 25, 2013: In spite of protestations and denials about wrong doing on his part, Sonny Ramdeo, founder and former CEO of the now defunct charter airline EZJet, was arrested by the FBI in Brooklyn, New York City, on December 11th and is awaiting trial, set for March in Florida.
Of course, by then the weary Guyanese traveling public would have exuded a collective groan upon hearing that Ramdeo’s ‘baby,’ EZJet, was suspended by Guyanese and American aviation authorities after less than a year of operation.
This has become the norm as Diaspora Guyanese, once again, were left stranded in Guyana, with no recourse to justice. EZJet pledge that all passengers would be given full refund for the unused portions of their tickets, was mere words not even worth the paper they were printed on; a fact subsequently acknowledged by Ramdeo’s successor, Guyana-based, Rosalinda Rasul.
But then only EZJet would have been in denial at the time of its pledge as it had become public knowledge that it owes US$2,230,000 to two leasing companies- Dynamic Airways and Swift Air.
When Ramdeo announced the launch of EZJet in December 2011, there was a bit of skepticism about his ability to personally fund such a venture. He responded that he had garnered investors and that his airline would not only endure but would be successful.
And, in spite of a few hiccups, it seemed that Ramdeo’s position was being vindicated as EZJet added the Canada route to its US routes and then direct flights from Guyana to Trinidad & Tobago. Guyanese who had been treated quite badly by Caribbean Airlines, felt that they now had a viable alternative. Then came the October 24th news: Florida hospital chain, Promise Healthcare claimed in court that its payroll manager and his two companies embezzled $5.4 million from it and sued Sonny Ramdeo, PayServ Tax and EZJet GT, in Palm Beach County Court.
It claims it hired Ramdeo 8 years ago to manage payroll for its 3,500 employees in its hospitals nationwide. Promise accuses “Sonny Ramdeo, and his companies (of) stealing over five million dollars from Promise through a sophisticated scheme of fraud and deception. Specifically, Ramdeo incorporated a company called ‘PayServ Tax Inc.’ and deceived Promise’s senior management into believing that PayServ was a legitimate payroll tax processing company affiliated with the nationally known payroll processing company, Ceridian. Based on this lie, he deceived Promise into transferring millions of dollars to PayServ Tax Inc. and diverted over five million dollars of Promise’s money to himself and his companies,” the complaint states.
One day later, Ramdeo announced that he has stepped down from his position as CEO to be replaced by Rosalinda Rasul, former head of station for EZJet in Georgetown, who is now acting CEO. Meanwhile EZJet has been engaged in a deluge of words making various claims about who owes how much to whom in an attempt to explain its financial position. In the meantime the Guyana government was left scrambling to find alternative flights for the stranded passengers from the Diaspora.
The fact is that Guyanese Diasporans comprise the majority of passengers who fill aircrafts to and from Guyana and over the years, they have been subjected to a series of fly by night airlines and charters that disappear as suddenly as they appear, generally leaving passengers stranded and suffering from financial and other losses.
EZJet follows a long list of airlines and charters that have services the Guyanese community at home and abroad for varying periods of time, generally leaving a bad taste with their disappearing acts. These include:
Guy America Airways operated from January 1982 to March 1983 from New York to Guyana and was owned by New York-based businesswoman, Rosanna Beaumont.
Tropical Airways owned by US-based Guyanese, Larry Singh, received certification for passenger operations in June 1988 but only performed charter services between April to October 1988 before filing for bankruptcy.
When the same Larry Singh became involved with Guyana Airways 2000, an individual by the name of Mr. Sahadeo Sukhram, filed an affidavit opposing Singh’s involvement on the basis that “Larry Singh is an individual so lacking in character, integrity and basic honesty that he is totally unfit to serve in any capacity.”
According to Sukhram, Larry Singh had persuaded him (Sukhram) to invest $100,000 in return for four shares in the charter and a managerial position. Sukhram added that he never received any position and repeated requests for the return of his money, were never satisfied, despite a number of promises by Larry Singh.
Apparently too, another investor in Tropical Airways, Dhaniram Rambali, also objected to Singh’s involvement in Guyana Airways 2000. His objection, filed with the Department of Transportation (DOT), claimed that Larry Singh had borrowed $160,000 from himself and Nohar Singh but had only repaid $3,000 each and that Singh owed an estimated amount of $1.2 million to various investors. Tropical Airways filed for bankruptcy in 1988 but, applied for recertification in 1991was denied by the DOT.
Nohar Singh, president of the relatively successful charter service, TravelSpan, was also involved in three previous airlines that went belly up: American Trans Air, Transwing Airways Corp. which folded in 1989 and Leisure Air which folded in 1994.
In 2006, Singh’s application to the US Department of Transportation, for a permit for TravelSpan but was opposed by two New York-based Guyanese, businessman Frank Singh and Buddy Ramsarran, (both investors in one or more of Singh’s previous ventures), on the grounds that Singh had “hoodwinked and robbed honest and simple people” and that previous charter service “became defunct … by his misappropriation of funds that resulted in a tremendous loss to investors.”
The DOT ultimately approved Nohar Singh’s application, and he sued his two detractors for libel. With respect to Singh’s previous ventures, many passengers were left stranded, without any compensation.
Guyana’s first, privately-owned and operated National Flag Carrier, Guyana Airways 2000, took to the skies in June 1999 with an inaugural flight to Toronto, Canada. Chaired by Guyanese business icon, Yesu Persaud, the company, operated an A300-600R Airbus and created history as the first National Flag Carrier of Guyana to be fully owned and operated by locally based Guyanese.
Launched in December 2001 Universal Airlines (UA), owned and operated by New York based Guyanese, Ms. Chandrawattie Harpaul, and her sister, Ramashree Singh, was based in Georgetown, Guyana and operated a scheduled passenger service to the USA and to nearby Trinidad and Tobago. Mr. Sudarshan Singh, husband of Ramashree Singh, and an aircraft maintenance engineer by profession, served as president of UA. Service was not all smooth sailing but Guyanese flocked to UA until its operations were suspended in 2005 after its leased Airbus A320 was repossessed.
The US based, North American Airlines, Inc., founded by Dan McKinnon, former head of the then-Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), launched its Guyana service on September 2007. On May 19th 2008 it ceased all flights to Guyana claiming that fuel costs being, at an all time high, had made it prohibitive for it to continue operations..
Now comes Kingston based, Fly Jamaica a Jamaica-based airline, which was scheduled to make its first commercial flight on January 25 to New York’s JFK Airport, according to the airline’s chief operating officer Captain Lloyd Tai.
The airline operates a single Boeing 757-200 aircraft but plans to acquire an additional aircraft by year-end to bring its fleet to two. Fly Jamaica is a partnership between Guyanese Paul Ronald Reece, the company’s chief executive officer, and three Jamaican shareholders including Tai. Fly Jamaica also plans to fly the Guyana/North America route sometime in the future.
We shall see what happens next!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Annan Boodram is the founder of The Caribbean Voice newspaper.