SAN FRANCISCO — A former California news helicopter pilot was in federal custody on Wednesday in New York after being charged with flying without a proper license and lying to officials, authorities said.
John Michael Dial, 57, who worked under the fake name of Thomas R. Cuni while making hundreds of flights in the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento between 2009 and last year, was arrested Monday in Skaneateles, N.Y., on a warrant out of Sacramento, U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner announced.
Dial appeared before a U.S. magistrate judge in Syracuse, N.Y., on Monday and was ordered held without bail and transported to Sacramento.
The arrest came nearly 20 years after Dial was convicted of providing false information to the Federal Aviation Administration. He was sentenced in 1994 to two years in prison and a one-year term of supervised release.
Dial’s latest legal problems raise questions about FAA security procedures.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said Wednesday the agency declined to comment on the arrest. However, he explained that generally people who apply for pilot certificates must present a government-issued photo ID and sign documents certifying under penalty of perjury the information they are providing is true and correct.
The current grand jury indictment in California was unsealed on Tuesday. It charges Dial with two counts of making a false statement to Federal Aviation Administration officials and one count of operating an aircraft without a pilot’s license.
He could face up to five years in prison if convicted.
An FBI affidavit says Dial provided false information to FAA officials for years to work as a pilot for an air ambulance service in Susanville and as a news helicopter pilot in the Sacramento and San Francisco media markets.
He is accused of using his alias while supplying the air ambulance service with bogus information, including an FAA temporary airman certificate, an FAA medical second class certificate, a Vermont driver’s license bearing his picture, a U.S. Army helicopter pilot qualification card and an Army discharge from active duty.
The affidavit said Dial got his FAA certification using the alias and was hired as a news helicopter pilot, flying in that capacity about 265 times in the San Francisco area between December 2009 and August 2010. It does not include the media outlets that used his services, only that he was contracted through Helicopters Inc., a news helicopter service headquartered in Illinois.
Dial’s last recorded flights were under his real name. He is suspected of using fake FAA documents to get a job with Sacramento television news station KCRA to fly a news helicopter in March 2012.
According to the complaint, Dial told law enforcement in Idaho in April 2012 that he used the name Thomas R. Cuni in order to avoid apprehension for two outstanding felony warrants.
Dial has used 24 other names and aliases over the past 12 years as well as six Social Security numbers and even 10 dates of birth, authorities said.
He has had multiple theft and forgery convictions as well as numerous misdemeanor convictions relating to bad checks dating as far back as the late 1970s, the affidavit said.