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Sat, Nov 23, 2013

Airport Operator Charged With Flying An Airplane Without A Proper License

Also Accused Of Lying To The FAA About His Qualifications

Paul Douglas Tharp, 53, of Greensboro, NC, was arrested Wednesday on a federal criminal indictment charging him with lying to the FAA about his qualifications as mechanic and a pilot and for flying an airplane without the proper pilot’s license, according to a news release from Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. The five-count criminal indictment was unsealed following the arrest of Tharp by law enforcement in Winston-Salem, NC.

Kathryn A. Jones, U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General (DOT-OIG) regional Special Agent-In-Charge, joins U.S. Attorney Tompkins in making the announcement.

According to allegations contained in the criminal indictment, in or around 2011 Tharp was hired by Warriors and Warbirds, a group based in Monroe, N.C., to repair and refinish a multi-engine Curtiss Wright C-46F (C-46F) airplane that the group had purchased from an aviation museum in Midland, Texas. The Warriors and Warbirds group planned to feature the C-46F airplane at the museum located at the Charlotte-Monroe Executive Airport. Tharp currently operates an airport in Davidson County, N.C., and at the time he was certified to fly only single-engine aircrafts. Tharp did not have a multi-engine pilot license and did not hold an FAA Mechanic Certificate with an Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) rating. The Warriors and Warbirds hired Tharp to repair and fly their aircraft, after Tharp told a group representative that he was an A&P mechanic and could get the C-46F in good condition, and that he was licensed to operate a multi-engine plane like the C-46F.

As part of his services to the group, Tharp regularly traveled to Midland, Texas, where he performed maintenance on the C-46F, knowing he was not certified to do so. In addition to providing mechanic services, on several occasions Tharp acted as second in command during flights, even though he lacked the proper authorization to fly this type of airplane. On or about June 4, 2011, Tharp, acting again as second in command pilot, and other persons traveled via the C-46F from Monroe to an air show in Reading, Penn. Because the airplane still needed additional mechanical work to improve its airworthiness, the FAA required a special ferry permit before the plane could be flown back to Monroe. On or about June 5, 2011, an FAA inspector asked Tharp if someone had inspected the airplane’s condition to determine if the C-46F was safe for the return flight from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, and Tharp falsely represented he was an A&P mechanic who could make that determination. When the FAA inspector asked Tharp about his A&P certificate, Tharp lied and told the inspector that he had forgotten his A&P certificate in a rush to prepare the C-46F for the flight to Pennsylvania. Tharp then gave the FAA inspector the A&P certificate number of another A&P certificate holder who Tharp knew. This person did not give permission to Tharp to use his certificate number, and he became upset when he learned about Tharp’s unauthorized use of his number.

Based upon Tharp’s false representation about his status as an A&P mechanic and his unauthorized use of another person’s certificate number, the FAA inspector issued a special ferry permit that allowed the C-46F and its passengers to fly from Pennsylvania back to Monroe. Tharp again acted as second in command of the multi-engine C-46F even though he should not have been flying this airplane.

After Tharp completed the return trip to North Carolina, the FAA inspector who issued the special ferry permit checked on the certificate number Tharp had provided and learned that Tharp had lied about having an A&P certificate. The FAA opened an investigation and when Tharp received a letter from the FAA inquiring whether he was an A&P mechanic and whether he had a pilot’s certificate that allowed him to fly a multi-engine airplane like the C-46F, Tharp sent a reply letter to the FAA falsely stating, “I have been putting a time line of when I received my multi engine rating,” despite knowing he had never had this rating.

“Tharp knowingly and repeatedly lied about his qualifications to his clients and the FAA and in the process put lives at risk. Tharp’s lack of proper certification as a pilot and a mechanic is a serious safety hazard and now Tharp must face the legal consequences of these dangerous lies,” said U.S. Attorney Tompkins. “The arrest today is a clear signal that safety of the Nation’s air transportation system remains a high priority for both OIG and DOT,” said Kathryn A. Jones, DOT-OIG regional Special Agent-In-Charge. “Working with the FAA, and our law enforcement and prosecutorial colleagues, we will continue our vigorous efforts to prevent and detect unlawful use of, and false statements related to, pilot and mechanic certificates; and punish to the fullest extent of the law those who would seek to compromise the integrity of DOT’s safety programs.”

Tharp had his initial appearance today in U.S. District Court in Winston-Salem. At sentencing he faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the two criminal counts of making false statements to the FAA, and a maximum of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the three counts of flying without proper authorization.

The charges contained in the indictment are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until he is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

(USAF C-46 pictured in public domain file photo)

FMI: www.justice.gov/usao/ncw/index.html

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