Updated: Grand Juries Across California Have Indicted 40 Pilots for Fraud

No title SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Grand juries across California have indicted 40 pilots for fraud after they falsified medical records to hide disabilities like schizophrenia and severe heart problems that would have grounded them, federal officials said on Monday. The pilots claimed to be fit to fly airplanes but collected disability payments for medical and psychological conditions that would have disqualified them from operating an aircraft, according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California. Other pilots failed to report they had prior criminal convictions, the statement said.

Authorities said they found pilots who continued to fly even though they had disabilities including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, drug and alcohol addiction, disabling back pain and severe heart conditions.

The indictments follow an 18-month probe of 40,000 licensed pilots in California by federal transportation officials, the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

The statement said a number of commercial pilots and airline transport pilots were among the people indicted, but it did not provide details.

The pilots committed fraud when they didn’t report their disabling medical conditions on their Federal Aviation Administration Medical Airman certificates, according to the statement. That certificate is the key document to obtaining and maintaining an active FAA pilot’s license, the statement said.

The FAA has revoked 14 of the pilots’ licenses and medical certificates, the other 26 pilots may be suspended.

A total of 46 California pilots, 14 of them active, have been charged with lying to federal authorities to obtain certificates. In most cases, authorities allege, the pilots, seven of whom held commercial licenses, hid medical conditions that would have disqualified them. “The fraud and falsification allegedly committed by these individuals is extremely serious and adversely affects the public interest in air safety,” the FAA’s Nicholas Sabatini, an associate administrator in charge of flight safety programs, told The New York Times. The charges were laid after a two-year investigation in which Social Security numbers of pilots were cross-referenced with other databases. In some cases, pilots were discovered to be receiving disability benefits for conditions that would disqualify them from flying. The conditions ranged from heart conditions to serious mental illnesses like paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and even severe suicidal tendencies. “To get their certificates, these people had to lie or falsify paperwork,” Charles Lee, a department of transportation spokesman, told the Times. Lying to the feds carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. One state down, 49 to go?