Mystery Pilot Pleads Guilty to Five Felony Charges
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Lawyer Thomas Root, plucked from the Atlantic after a mysterious six-hour solo flight during which he was shot, pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to five felony charges of misrepresenting clients.
Root faces up to 35 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines. In North Carolina, a grand jury Monday returned a 455-count indictment against the Alexandria, Va., communications attorney.
The federal charges involved five clients who had been seeking broadcast licenses from the Federal Communications Commission. A federal grand jury returned a 33-count indictment against Root in March.
Root, 37, declined comment after entering his plea at U.S. District Court. His attorney, Eugene Propper, said Root ″feels he’s getting a lot more attention″ that he otherwise would because of the July 13 flight.
Root told authorities that he blacked out during the flight and that the plane continued on autopilot. However, Navy fighter pilots who intercepted the flight said they saw Root moving in the cockpit.
The Cessna 210 crashed into the Atlantic off the Bahamas. When Root was rescued, he had a gunshot wound to his stomach. The wound has not been explained.
Root, who in October filed for bankruptcy court protection from his creditors, has denied that financial and legal troubles were connected with the flight.
On Monday, a Nash County grand jury in Raleigh, N.C., returned a 455-count indictment charging Root with securities fraud and other charges. Also indicted were 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.
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.
In the federal case, Root on Tuesday admitted giving the FCC a counterfeit document stating that the Federal Aviation Administration had approved a proposed Missouri site for a radio tower.
He also said he gave a North Carolina client a forged FCC document indicating its license application had been reinstated and defrauded another North Carolina client by settling a claim against a competitor for one-fifth the authorized amount.
Root pleaded guilty to giving a false document to a New York client seeking a site on Long Island for a radio station, and falsely telling another client he would get an FCC application reinstated when he had sought the dismissal.
The former Missouri client, Monte Hanson, president of Northern Missouri Christian Broadcasting Co. of Kirksville, said his company had retained a new attorney and is still seeking an FCC license for its proposed station.
″We’re still working with the FCC and FAA to iron out the problems that (Root) caused,″ Hanson said.
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.
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 was little chance investors would recoup their money.
Root said in his petition for bankruptcy court protection that he had $1.6 million in liabilities.