NEW YORK -- A former news helicopter pilot, who worked for years under a fake name and who flew over 200 times in the Bay Area, was arrested Monday for flying without a proper pilot's license and for lying to federal officials, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday.
John Michael Dial, who worked under the name Thomas R. Cuni while serving as a pilot throughout Northern California, provided false information to the Federal Aviation Administration for years to be able to work as a helicopter pilot for an air ambulance service in Susanville and as a news helicopter pilot in Sacramento and San Francisco, according to court documents.
From December 2009 to August 2010, Dial, hired under his fictitious name, flew approximately 265 times without a pilot certificate for news organizations in the Bay Area, according to a federal criminal complaint. The document does not state which news organization Dial flew for, only that he was contracted through Helicopters, Inc., a news helicopter service headquartered in Illinois.
Officials at Helicopters, Inc. could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Dial's last recorded flights were under his real name, where he used fake FAA documents to get a job with Sacramento television news station KCRA to fly a news helicopter in March 2012.
In April 2012, Dial was stopped twice by police in Idaho, once for driving on a suspended license and once for speeding. Dial gave police a fake Vermont license both times, but when police learned Thomas R. Cuni did not exist, Dial admitted who he was and was arrested in Skaneateles, N.Y.
According to court documents, Dial has used 24 other names and aliases over the past 12 years and had multiple theft and forgery convictions as well as numerous misdemeanor convictions relating to bad checks as far back as 1977.
Dial was also convicted in 1994 of making false statements to the FAA.
Dial has been charged with two counts of making a false statement to federal aviation officials and one count of flying an aircraft without a proper pilot's license. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and a three-year term of supervised release.
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