SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A former California news helicopter pilot charged with lying to federal aviation officials and flying under a false name may have exploited a crack in the system by changing his name after a previous conviction nearly 20 years ago, experts said Wednesday.
John Michael Dial, 57, who worked under the name 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, authorities said.
Dial appeared before a U.S. magistrate judge in Syracuse, N.Y., on Monday and was ordered held without bail and transported to Sacramento. He was represented by a federal public defender whose name was not immediately available.
The arrest came nearly 20 years after Dial was convicted of providing false information to the Federal Aviation Administration and sentenced to two years in prison and a year of supervised release.
He also has theft and forgery convictions as well as misdemeanor convictions relating to bad checks dating as far back as the late 1970s, an FBI affidavit states.
Authorities said Dial has used 24 other names and aliases during the past 12 years as well as six Social Security numbers and 10 dates of birth.
Aviation experts said Dial might have flown under the FAA's radar by changing his identity after the 1994 case.
"It's not surprising that the FAA didn't find this guy because they're not looking for him," said Justin Green, a New York attorney and former attack helicopter pilot in the Marines. "This guy created a character and apparently has been living a lie for many years."
Thomas Anthony, director of the University of Southern California's Aviation Safety and Security Program, believes Dial would not have gotten a license if he had stuck with his true name.
However, "this issue definitely deserves some studying," he said.
FAA spokesman Ian Gregor declined to comment on the charges against Dial.