Hansen Helo Case Hovers Near Mistrial

 - June 13, 2022, 3:42 PM

The Hansen Helicopter trial came to an abrupt pause last week and has been continued through at least mid-August due to the illness of the lead prosecutor, jurors, and a variety of scheduling conflicts. The case which began in February and was originally scheduled to last just three weeks already has seen jurors dismissed for cause and illness. Any additional delay beyond August could further erode the number of available jurors and trigger a mistrial. 

Guam-based Hansen and its CEO, John D. Walker, are on trial for more than 100 combined counts of fraud and money laundering relating to allegedly employing pilots and mechanics without proper licensure, use of unapproved aircraft parts, falsification of aircraft log books and registrations, bribery of an FAA inspector, and using mismatched data plates. Hansen operated a fleet of more than 50 helicopters, primarily MD Helicopters HS-369/OH-6A models, that were leased to tuna boat companies as spotting aircraft. 

The trial was halted in March after the cases of four other co-defendants were severed. It resumed May 9 but has proceeded at a much slower pace than anticipated as prosecutors admitted more than 3,000 exhibits, 13 terabytes of data, and a long list of witnesses from the FBI, IRS, FAA, and MD Helicopters; former Hansen pilots; fraud investigators and independent safety experts; and even the cousin of one of the prosecutors, who testified about viewing helicopter wreckage.

Defense attorneys complained bitterly to Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood that prosecutors engaged in frequent last-minute document dumps relating to new exhibits with very short notice during the duration of the trial. “It continues to happen every day,” complained Walker attorney Mack Martin. “We’re not getting notice of what we’re defending against. They’re dropping documents, and big documents, on us every day.”

Prosecutors countered that the criminal conduct by Hansen and Walker continued after the initial 2018 indictment through January 2021, necessitating the filing of superseding indictments and additional evidence. 

The sheer volume of the evidence has prompted near-daily rows between defense attorneys and prosecutors, often requiring the jury to be excused, while Tydingco-Gatewood settled a barrage of sometimes heated objections, motions, and procedural arguments that sometimes lasted more than 30 minutes each. The breadth and complexity of prosecution evidence at one point prompted Tydingco-Gatewood to caution, “This is the third indictment against these defendants.”

“Any defendants who come into my court, they have the right to know what they are defending against,” Tydingco-Gatewood said. “We’re looking at a very serious case. Sometimes there are a lot of unnecessary arguments and proffers that I believe are being made here. I’m warning you, it’s getting too complicated. You guys are spinning your wheels. We’re wasting jury time.”