Alleged Laser-wielder Indicted
PROVIDENCE, R.I., Sept. 30, 2010 — A Warwick man was indicted by a federal grand jury and arraigned in US District Court in Providence on charges of willfully interfering with the safe operation of an airborne commercial aircraft and endangering the safety of the passengers and crew.
Joseph Aquino, 31, was indicted on charges he interfered with the safe operation of an aircraft and endangered the passengers and crew on Sept. 15, 2010, when he allegedly illuminated the cockpit of an incoming commercial flight on final approach to T.F. Green Airport in Warwick with a laser light, momentarily blinding the pilot.
The indictment was announced Thursday at a news conference at the airport by US Attorney Peter F. Neronha; Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston field office; and Warwick Police Chief Col. Stephen M. McCartney.
Neronha also was joined by federal, state and local law enforcement and aviation agencies, the US Coast Guard and a representative of the International Pilots Association to highlight the dramatic increase in the number of aircraft lasering incidents in Rhode Island, New England and across the nation. They also addressed the cooperative efforts of federal, state, and local law enforcement and aviation agencies and prosecutors to investigate these incidents and arrest and prosecute those responsible.
According to figures provided by the FBI, in 2008, approximately 1000 instances of lasering aircraft were reported nationwide. In comparison, through August of this year, 1700 incidents have occurred around the country. In Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, a total of 66 incidents were reported between January 2009 and August of this year. Seventeen of those were in Rhode Island.
“Let there be no mistake — we take these alleged violations of federal law very seriously,” Neronha said. “The safety of our nation’s airports, and everyone who flies in and out of them, is of critical importance. The type of conduct alleged here, as detailed in the affidavit filed in connection with the initial federal arrest of Mr. Aquino, is no joke. It is no harmless prank. It endangers lives, and, unfortunately, there have been similar lasering incidents in this area and around the country.”
DesLauriers added, “Most often, lasers are pointed at aircraft during critical phases of flights — while they are at low altitude when taking off or preparing to land. Any brief distraction in the cockpit during this time can be catastrophic. Each time a laser is pointed at aircraft — military or civilian —the safety of the crew, passengers and those on the ground is jeopardized. Given the potentially lethal consequences of lasering, our collective goal today is to educate the community that lasering is dangerous and illegal and will be vigorously addressed by the law enforcement community.”
Rhode Island State Police Superintendent Col. Brendan P. Doherty told reporters: “This arrest and federal indictment should send a clear message that there will always be a cooperative effort between local, state and federal law enforcement to detect and arrest people who engage in this type of activity and who are a threat of public safety.”
Aquino pleaded not guilty at his arraignment and was released on unsecured bond. If convicted, he faces maximum sentences of 20 years’ imprisonment, three years' supervised release and a $250,000 fine on each count.
An indictment is merely an allegation and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The matter was investigated jointly by the FBI; the Department of Homeland Security; TSA, Rhode Island; the FAA; the Rhode Island Airport Police; the Rhode Island State Police; and the Warwick Police. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant US Attorney Stephanie S. Browne.
For more information, visit: boston.fbi.gov
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