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Backyard landings in helicopter could land East Brookfield man in prison for a long time

LANCASTER -  A helicopter stolen from Norwoord Airport sits in a field on Russell Bashaw's farm in May 2000.
LANCASTER - A helicopter stolen from Norwoord Airport sits in a field on Russell Bashaw's farm in May 2000.

WORCESTER - A federal jury in Worcester has convicted an East Brookfield man of illegally flying a helicopter around his property and lying to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Antonio Santonastaso, who authorities say previously participated in the theft of a helicopter from a Norwood airport, was convicted Tuesday following a three-day trial on three of four charges he faced, records show.

More: FAA puts an end to chopper trips

A jury convicted Santonastaso, 62, of one count of serving as an airman without an airman certificate, one count of making false statements to federal agents and one count of attempted witness tampering. It acquitted him of one count of making false statements to other agencies.

According to a news release from the office of U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins, Santonastaso flew a Robinson R-22 helicopter – taking off and landing from his backyard – more than 50 times between April 28, 2018, and Nov. 11, 2018, despite having no pilot’s license.

Santonastaso had lost his license in 2000 after he participated in the theft of a helicopter from Norwood Memorial Airport, authorities said, but when questioned about that by the FAA, “made false statements regarding his eligibility to pilot the helicopter.

“Specifically, Santonastaso falsely claimed that the events that gave rise to the FAA’s revocation of his license were a fabrication,” authorities wrote. “Evidence at trial also established that Santonastaso attempted to corruptly persuade an individual with the intent to hinder, delay and prevent that individual from reporting his illegal helicopter flights to law enforcement.”

Sentence could be 20 years

According to Rollins’ office, Santonastaso, who is due to be sentenced Oct. 5, faces up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000.

“Mr. Santonastaso demonstrated a blatant disregard for FAA rules and regulations by operating a helicopter out of his backyard without a license on numerous occasions,” Rollins said in a statement. “Every time he did so, he endangered himself, his community and the general public on the ground.

“My office will continue our work to detect and hold accountable individuals who violate federal laws and regulations, as well as those who make false statements to federal investigators and who attempt to tamper with witnesses.”

Rollins thanked the Northeast U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General for its work.

Joseph Harris, the Special Agent-in-Charge for that department, said in the release that the case demonstrates it “will continue working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners to support the safety and integrity of the nation’s airspace.”

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Evan Panich and Danial Bennett.

Antonio Santonastaso
Antonio Santonastaso

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: East Brookfield's Antonio Santonastaso convicted of illegally flying helicopter, lying to FAA