By most accounts, John Michael Dial is not a bad helicopter pilot.
But he neglected what he may think of as niceties. He flew without a pilot’s license and under assumed names.
He crash-landed in Sacramento federal court, where he was sentenced Thursday to two years in prison on his July guilty plea to aggravated identify theft.
Dial, 58, did things like making false statements to the Federal Aviation Administration and forging a signature on a U.S. passport, all while using the names of actual people – just not his own.
At the time of his guilty plea, Dial admitted to an astonishing list of unlawful deceits, including the use of a phony FAA airman certificate and an FAA medical certificate to get hired as a pilot in March 2012 at Channel 3 (KCRA) in Sacramento. He said he flew for the station only twice, according to the written plea bargain.
Dial also admitted working – without a license – under the name Thomas R. Cuni as a news helicopter pilot in the Bay Area between December 2009 and August 2010.
According to an FBI affidavit on file in federal court, law enforcement databanks show he has used at least 25 different names, as well as six Social Security numbers associated with those names and 10 birthdates. The data banks also show multiple theft and forgery convictions along with misdemeanor convictions tied to bad checks as far back as 1977.
Included is a 1993 federal conviction for making false statements to the FAA regarding his medical and student pilot certificates, on which he was sentenced to prison for two years and subsequent supervised release for a year.
Dial once used the name Alex Coussirat to get hired by an air ambulance service in western New York. He also created a fraudulent passport under the same name. He met the actual Coussirat while both were employed as helicopter pilots flying personnel and supplies to oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.
Among the fraudulent documents – all in the Cuni name – that he provided when he applied for a job in June 2011 at a Susanville air ambulance service were a Vermont driver’s license, a U.S. Department of Agriculture pilot qualification card and a certificate of discharge from active duty in the military.
There is no record of him ever having served in the military.
He was hired in Susanville as an emergency medical services helicopter pilot and flew 63 assignments without a pilot’s license.
The Susanville service eventually learned his true identity and background and reported the matter to the Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Transportation, parent agency of the FAA.
Dial has been in federal custody without bail since his arrest on July 22, 2013, by a deputy U.S. marshal in upstate New York, where he had been living.
As part of the plea deal, Dial was allowed to plead to the lesser charge of aggravated identity theft. At Thursday’s sentencing hearing, U.S. District Judge Morrison C. England Jr. granted the prosecutor’s motion to dismiss a grand jury indictment charging Dial on two counts of false statements and one count of operating in air transportation without an airman’s certificate.