Former Mountain Lifeflight pilot faces federal charges
July 30, 2013 — A former Mountain Lifeflight helicopter pilot has been indicted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California — and information provided to the Federal Aviation Administration and other investigators by the Susanville company contributed to the investigation that eventually resulted in the pilot’s arrest Monday, July 22 in Skaneateles, NY.
John Michael Dial, 57, aka Thomas R. Cuni, allegedly flew 63 times for Mountain Lifeflight during a four-month period between July 3, 2011 and Nov. 7, 2011.
Gavin Duncan, chief pilot for Mountain Lifeflight, said the company began cooperating with investigators after it learned Cuni had been arrested by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office Nov. 21, 2011 “on several felony charges including identity fraud,” and the sheriff’s office had determined his true identity as John Michael Dial.
According to a sealed indictment, filed in U.S. District Court, Dec. 13, 2012, FAA records report Cuni “was an FAA certified flight instructor and a commercial pilot with a certificate number of 2692161.”
Despite those FAA records, according to the affidavit, “investigators have been unable to locate any individuals by the name of Thomas R. Cuni relevant to this investigation. All references to Thomas R. Cuni are to the subject (Dial), an individual who has assumed the identity of Thomas R. Cuni.”
According to the FAA records, Dial did not have an airman’s file that includes a pilot’s certificate.
The allegations contained the federal indictment allege Dial “willfully and knowingly” provided false information to several companies, including Mountain Lifeflight, in order to obtain employment as a helicopter pilot.
Dial, using the fictitious name Thomas R. Cuni, applied for a job at Mountain Lifeflight in Susanville in June 2011. He allegedly provided an FAA Temporary Airman Certificate dated May 24, 2011; an FAA Medical Second Class Certificate dated April 4, 2011; a Vermont driver’s license with his picture; a U.S. Department of Agriculture Helicopter Pilot Qualification Card dated July 22, 2010; and a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty Form. All the documents Dial presented to Mountain Lifeflight allegedly were fraudulent.
According to the indictment, there is no record of the state of Vermont ever issuing a driver’s license to Thomas R. Cuni and there is no record of Thomas R. Cuni ever serving in the military or being honorably discharged.
As part of his application process, Mountain Lifeflight asked Dial to sign a number of FAA records release forms in order to allow the company to review his qualifications.
“By signing these release forms, the subject was providing false information to the FAA about his actual identity,” according to the affidavit.
The indictment alleges, Dial “did knowingly and willingly make materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statements and representations … all in violation of Title 188, United States Code, Section 1001 (a).”
The indictment also alleges Dial “did knowingly and willfully serve and attempt to serve in any capacity as an airman operating an aircraft in air transportation, to wit: as pilot of a helicopter without an airman’s certificate authorizing him to serve in that capacity, all in violation of Title 49, United States Code, Section 46317 (a) (1).”
About March 23, 2012, the Department of Transportation, Office of the Inspector General, received a referral from the FAA regarding a Mountain Lifeflight pilot named Thomas R. Cuni. While the FAA records showed Cuni had a pilot’s certificate, Dial, the pilot’s true identity, did not.
Investigators discovered Dial has used his own name and his fictitious name on several occasions in order to obtain employment as a pilot.
From Dec. 16, 2009 until Aug. 4, 2010, the indictment alleges, Dial used the Cuni identity to work as a news helicopter pilot for a Cahokia, Ill. company. During his tenure, he flew five different aircraft about 265 times in the San Francisco Bay Area without a pilot’s certificate.
Dial worked for Mountain Lifeflight in Susanville from June to November 2011.
On March 15, 2012, Dial provided the Illinois company with fraudulent documents in his own name.
In March 2012 Dial allegedly flew a KRCA news helicopter without a pilot’s certificate.
New York arrest
AVWebnews reports before his arrest last week in New York, Dial had worked for the past eight months at a Syracuse, NY area emergency medical services air provider, EMS Air Services Mercy Flight Central.
The news organization reported Dial passed the company's background check using a false name and did not hold the proper FAA certification.
Dial applied for the job as Alex Coussirat — a name that belongs to another pilot.
Using this assumed identity, Dial passed background checks and gave references that allowed his criminal record to remain undiscovered.
“When he skipped town after making bail on an arrest warrant, investigators tracked his veterans benefits to the Syracuse area,” Syracuse.com reported. “And eventually they found him at Mercy Flight Central working as Alex Coussirat and passing off documentation that was entirely forged.”
According to Hyland, no background check would have uncovered Dial's true identity because he provided all the documentation associated with an actual pilot and fulfilled all the FAA and EMS Air Services training requirements.
On April 6, 2012, Dial presented a Vermont driver’s license in the Cuni name to a Cascade, Idaho police officer during a traffic stop. He was told not to drive his vehicle, but he left the scene anyway.
A short time later, Dial was stopped for speeding by McCall, Idaho police officers. He again presented the Vermont driver’s license, but the officers were advised the license was suspended because it was issued to an “improper person.”
One of the officers learned of Dial’s true identity and discovered he had two outstanding felony warrants in the state of Washington. Dial was placed under arrest.
During a Mirandized statement, Dial admitted his true identity and said he had been using the Vermont driver’s license for 12 years in order to avoid apprehension on the two felony warrants.
Officers found two wallets in Dial’s vehicle — one related to Dial (with a California driver’s license) and one related to Cuni. The photographs on the California license and the Vermont license were of the same person.
As investigators sought to uncover Dial’s criminal history, a search of law enforcement databases revealed Dial used at least 24 other names, six social security numbers and 10 dates of birth.
According to the indictment, Dial allegedly has multiple theft and forgery convictions as well as misdemeanor convictions for bad checks dating back to 1977. In 1994, he was convicted of making false statements to the FAA and served a two-year sentence and one year of supervised release.
Due to concerns about Dial being a flight risk, FBI Special Agent Reginald L. Coleman asked a federal grand jury on Sept. 27, 2012 to seal his affidavit because Dial “has a history of evading law enforcement and remains at large. Without such an order, the subject or others close to him may learn of the warrant and facts contained in the affidavit and may take additional measures to hide from apprehension and may conceal, damage or destroy evidence relevant to this case.”
On Dec. 13, 2012, a federal grand jury indicted Dial on two counts of making a false statement to federal aviation officials and one count of operating an aircraft without a proper pilot’s license due to his employment at Mountain Lifeflight.
Based upon the indictment, the district court issued a no bail warrant. The affidavit and the indictment were unsealed after Dial’s arrest in New York last week.
According to the FBI press release, if convicted, Dial faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and a three-year term of supervised release.
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