Man accused of posing as helicopter pilot, flying for KCRA

07/24/2013 12:00 AM

07/24/2013 6:32 AM

A man accused of of repeatedly posing as a helicopter pilot and flying at least once last year for Channel 3 (KCRA) was arrested in upstate New York Monday on a warrant out of Sacramento, where a federal indictment alleges he flew without a license.

John Michael Dial, 57, who often used the name Thomas R. Cuni, made an initial appearance Monday before a U.S. magistrate judge in Syracuse, N.Y., and was ordered detained without bail and transported to Sacramento.

An inquiry to Channel 3 was directed to news director Lori Waldon, who did not respond to a voice-mail message describing the station's mention in court papers.

In a grand jury indictment returned Dec. 13 and unsealed Tuesday, Dial is charged with two counts of making a false statement to federal aviation officials and one count of operating an aircraft without a pilot's license.

The indictment replaced a criminal complaint filed Sept. 27, which was accompanied by a 15-page affidavit by FBI Special Agent Reginald Coleman.

The agent relates in the affidavit that Dial has a lengthy criminal record.

The affidavit says that, armed with a Federal Aviation Administration certification he obtained fraudulently under the Cuni alias, Dial was hired as a news helicopter pilot and flew in that capacity approximately 265 times in the Bay Area between December 2009 and August 2010. The affidavit does not include the name or names of the media outlet or outlets that used his services.

Two years ago, Coleman wrote in the affidavit, Dial used the fictitious Cuni identity to gain employment with Mountain Lifeflight Inc., an air ambulance service in Susanville. He supplied the company with these documents, all allegedly bogus: 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.

There is no record of a Thomas R. Cuni ever being issued a driver's license by Vermont, and no record of a person with that name having served in the military and being honorably discharged, according to the affidavit.

It says that, from July 3, 2011, to Nov. 7, 2011, under the Cuni name, Dial flew 63 missions out of Susanville for Mountain Lifeflight.

When he was stopped for speeding last year by a McCall, Idaho, police officer, Dial was carrying two wallets, one with the phony Vermont driver's license and the other with a California driver's license bearing his real name, the affidavit says. He admitted obtaining the Vermont license, by then expired on its face, 12 years before to avoid apprehension on two outstanding felony warrants in the state of Washington.

Coleman reports in his affidavit that Dial has a 1994 federal conviction for providing false information to the FAA. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

Dial "has multiple theft and forgery convictions in his record," the affidavit says, "as well as multiple misdemeanor convictions relating to bad checks as far back as 1977."

Dial has used 25 names other than his own during that checkered past, as well as six Social Security numbers and 10 dates of birth, the agent wrote.

Call The Bee's Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.

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