A man with a previous conviction for helicopter theft in 2000 has again been found guilty on charges of flying a Robinson R22 out of his backyard without an FAA pilot certificate. Antonio Santonastaso, 62, of East Brookfield, Massachusetts, was convicted earlier this month by a federal jury of one count of serving as an airman without an airman certificate, one count of making false statements to federal agents, and one count of attempted witness tampering.
He could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and fined $250,000. Sentencing is scheduled for October 5. He was originally indicted in May 2019.
Federal prosecutors charged that Santonastaso flew the R22 out of his backyard more than 50 times between April 28, 2018, and Nov. 11, 2018, and then “falsely claimed that the events that gave rise to the FAA’s revocation of his license were a fabrication. Evidence at trial also established that Santonastaso attempted to corruptly persuade an individual with the intent to hinder, delay, and prevent, that individual from reporting his illegal helicopter flights to law enforcement,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.
“Mr. Santonastaso demonstrated a blatant disregard for FAA rules and regulations by operating a helicopter out of his backyard without a license on numerous occasions. Every time he did so, he endangered himself, his community, and the general public on the ground,” said U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins.