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Ruskin Gyrocopter Pilot To Plead Guilty

Andrew Harnik/Associated Press
AP Photo
Douglas Hughes of Ruskin said he plans to plead guilty to charges of flying his gyrocopter onto the grounds of the U.S. Capitol as a form of protest.

A Ruskin man who piloted his one-person aircraft through some of the nation's most restricted airspace and landed on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol in an act he has called civil disobedience has agreed to a plea deal.

Douglas Hughes said Friday in a telephone interview that he has agreed to plead guilty to a felony, operating a gyrocopter without a license, a charge that carries a potential three years in prison.

"I have always accepted that there would be consequences for what I did," said Hughes, who called his stunt a way to call attention to what he called the influence of big money in politics.

He plans to enter the plea during a federal court hearing Nov. 20 in Washington. His lawyer, Mark Goldstone, said he will ultimately ask that a judge sentence Hughes to probation.

"This nonviolent aerial activist does not need to go to jail," Goldstone said.

Goldstone said prosecutors have agreed not to ask for more than 10 months in prison. William Miller, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, said the office does not comment on the possibility of pleas in its cases.

Hughes was arrested after flying the bare-bones aircraft from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Washington on April 15. Hughes, a mail carrier at the time, was carrying letters for each member of Congress and had a Postal Service logo on the tail section of his gyrocopter.

He passed through some of America's most restricted airspace before landing on the West Lawn of the Capitol. The flight "exposed major flaws" in the capital's air defense system, Hughes' lawyer said.

Hughes has said repeatedly in recent months that he objected to doing "significant hard jail time" for the stunt. He argued that no one got hurt and no property was damaged.

But he was facing charges that carried a potential of 9 ½ years in prison.

Goldstone, Hughes' attorney, says his client faces potential penalties beyond jail time. He said the charge Hughes will plead guilty to also carries a potential fine of $250,000, and the Federal Aviation Administration has also said it wants to fine Hughes $11,000.

Hughes has said he lost his job as a postal worker after the flight. After he resolves his criminal case, he hopes to work as an activist and continue to speak out against money in politics, he said. He said his "objective is to get done with jail as early as possible."

"I want to get back into the fight," he said.

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