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Feds allege 40 pilots lied to fly, get medical certificates

Dav8tor

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — An 18-month investigation has resulted in the arrests of 40 Northern California pilots who may have been flying with debilitating illnesses that should have kept them grounded, the U.S. Attorney's office said.

The pilots were receiving disability payments for serious medical conditions while maintaining active pilots' licenses, authorities allege.

All the pilots, including commercial and transport pilots, claimed to be medically fit to fly an airplane while collecting disability payments from the Social Security Administration, Marlon Cobar, a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's office in Fresno, said Monday.

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Illnesses ranged from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to drug and alcohol addiction and heart conditions — all of which would disqualify them from holding a medical certificate, which is necessary to maintain a valid pilot's license.

FAA spokesman Donn Walker said it was unclear how many of the pilots flew for a living, but that at least a dozen of them held commercial or airline transport licenses.

Other pilots not yet charged were found to be lying about having illnesses in order to collect the Social Security payment, Cobar said.

Cobar said the review of 40,000 pilots began in July 2003 as a "Homeland Security project" to look into the fraudulent use of Social Security numbers. When dozens of names turned up in both Social Security and Federal Aviation Administration rolls, "they realized there was probably criminal wrongdoing — either lying to the FAA or wrongfully receiving benefits."

After the review of 40,000 pilots, the FAA immediately revoked 14 pilots' licenses and medical certificates, the U.S. Attorney's office said. Others were referred for administrative revocation.

"We chose the most egregious," Cobar said. "You can't really fly a plane if you're telling the Social Security Administration you have a disabling back condition or bipolar disorder."

Thirty pilots are charged with making false statements to a government agency, and 10 pilots are charged with making and delivering a false official writing.
 
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