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Lawyer Who Survived Mysterious Plane Odyssey Indicted

June 5, 1990

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ A lawyer rescued from the Atlantic with a gunshot wound after a mysterious, 800-mile flight down the East Coast in his private plane has been indicted on 455 counts of securities fraud and related charges.

A Nash County grand jury issued indictments Monday that totaled 2,695 counts. Indicted were Thomas Root, Sonrise Management Services, Telemedia Inc. and three other men identified as co-owners of the two businesses.

Root handled radio license applications for investors of Sonrise Management before the Federal Communications Commission.

The indictments allege the companies violated securities laws by not registering securities, failing to register sales agents, engaging in false and deceptive sales practices and conspiring to violate securities laws.

″I really don’t have any reaction until I see the indictment, except to say that my client is not guilty of any securities fraud,″ said Eugene Propper, Root’s Washington attorney.

The Columbus, Ga.-based Sonrise Management, which touted Christian principles in sales literature and issued business cards inscribed with crosses, went out of business several months ago.

In announcing the indictment, North Carolina Secretary of State Rufus Edmisten said only a handful of Sonrise Management investors ever received FCC licenses.

″In all, 1,018 people in North Carolina contributed more than $8 million to this organization,″ Edmisten said. ″Nationally, more than $16 million was invested by people from 25 states.″

Edmisten said there is little chance investors will recoup their money.

″I wish I could say to all the victims, ’We’ll get your money back,‴ he said. ″But I don’t know that we’ll ever get a penny back. At the present time, I don’t know of any money available to make restitution.″

The other men indicted, Sonrise Chairman Ralph Savage and company President Eugene White, live in Phenix City, Ala. They joined with Carl Hurlebaus, who also was indicted, to form Telemedia in Maryland.

Root, already indicted on federal charges involving his work for Sonrise, drew national attention in July 1989 after he reported blacking out in the cockpit of his single-engine plane on a trip from Washington to Rocky Mount.

Root was followed by military planes during the 800-mile odyssey down the East Coast that ended when he crashed in Bahamian waters off Florida. Rescuers pulled Root from the ocean and discovered he had been shot in the stomach.

Root told investigators he could not recall anything after reporting by radio that he was having trouble breathing. He said he did not know how he got shot, but said the wound was not self-inflicted.

Root filed for bankruptcy court protection from creditors in October 1989, claiming he had $1.6 million in liabilities.

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