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Florida Gyrocopter Pilot Rejects Deal

Associated Press

The Ruskin man who flew a gyrocopter through some of America's most restricted airspace before landing outside the U.S. Capitol said Monday that he's rejected a plea deal that would have involved several years in prison.

 He declined to give specifics of ongoing negotiations but said that if prosecutors continue to insist on "significant hard jail time," his case will go to trial.

Hughes said spending several years in prison doesn't seem fair because nobody was hurt and there was no property damage during his April 15 flight in the bare-bones aircraft. He said his flight was an act of civil disobedience intended to call attention to the influence of big money in politics.

"My position is: No jail time is justified in an act that's only intended to bring the attention of the media and the voter to the corruption of our federal government," Hughes said after the hearing.

In May, Hughes pleaded not guilty to six charges on which he was indicted and said he was open to the possibility of a plea deal. A prosecutor said Monday in court that Hughes had rejected a pre-indictment deal but that negotiations were ongoing. Hughes said prosecutors are offering to resolve the case if he does several years in prison.

"The problem is that it was spectacular, OK, and the prosecutor has laid charges on me for that reason," Hughes said Monday, adding that prosecutors "are looking for an excuse to put me away."

The charges carry up to 9.5 years in prison. That includes two felonies: operating as an airman without an airman's certificate and violating aircraft registration requirements. Those charges each carry a maximum of three years in prison. Hughes also faces three misdemeanor offenses of violating national defense airspace, each carrying a maximum of one year in prison.

Hughes, who had been employed by the U.S. Postal Service and lives in Ruskin, also faces a misdemeanor charge of operating a vehicle falsely labeled as a postal carrier, a charge that carries a maximum of six months in prison. The tail section of Hughes' gyrocopter carried a Postal Service logo, and Hughes was carrying letters for each member of Congress.

Hughes is set to return to court on July 22.