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Pilot faces prison for arson, fraudPilot faces prison for arson, fraud

Theodore R. Wright III, who has admitted in federal court that he lied to authorities and the public in 2012 about ditching a (purportedly) burning Beechcraft Baron in the Gulf of Mexico, now faces a lengthy term in federal prison for insurance fraud and arson.

Pilot Theodore R. Wright III, far right, and passenger Raymond Fosdick, second from right, were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard after ditching in the Gulf of Mexico. Both men now stand accused of fraud. Coast Guard photo.

Acting U.S. Attorney Brit Featherston for the Eastern District of Texas announced Wright’s guilty plea before U.S. Magistrate Judge K. Nicole Mitchell Dec. 7, though Wright’s plea agreement, which was discussed during the court proceeding, was sealed pending further court proceedings including the sentencing hearing itself (which has not yet been scheduled). Wright remains in federal custody pending the outcome of those proceedings. He faces a potential statutory maximum of 40 years in prison on the wire fraud and arson charges he has admitted to, but the maximum appears to be possible only if the District Court judge rejects the deal between Wright and prosecutors, and Wright then opts to withdraw his guilty plea and reject the agreement that stands to give him more favorable terms, according to court documents.

Wright has not challenged most of the facts alleged in the original indictment, which detailed an alleged conspiracy led by Wright and involving co-conspirators Shane Gordon, Raymond Fosdick, and Edward Delima, all of whom have pleaded guilty to various federal charges.

Court documents detailing the alleged conspiracy were previously made public.

Wright and his co-conspirators have now admitted in court proceedings in recent months that they purchased and intentionally destroyed aircraft and other vehicles in order to collect on insurance policies, including the Baron, which sank in deep water just before Wright and Fosdick were rescued from the Gulf of Mexico in 2012; a Cessna Citation that was destroyed by arson in September 2014; a Hunter Passage yacht that was sunk at its dock in Hawaii the following month; and a Lamborghini Gallardo, which Wright bought in January 2014 and drove into a ditch full of water two months later. In each case, insurance policies had been purchased that significantly exceeded the purchase price and market value of the vehicle or vessel in question.

Prosecutors sought forfeiture of assets, including $938,554 in proceeds from the various acts of insurance fraud, along with a Learjet 35A that the conspirators purchased in February 2015.

A court document detailing the factual basis of Wright’s guilty plea is consistent with the indictment, though assertions detailing the amount of ill-gotten gains from the conspiracy ($988,554.83 in losses sustained by insurance companies, and $938,554.80 in criminal proceeds pocketed by the defendants) were apparently crossed out before Wright signed that document.

With the plea agreement under seal pending sentencing, it remains unclear how long Wright will remain behind bars, and what restitution or forfeiture of assets he will be required to make. The District Court judge, under federal court rules, has discretion to impose different terms than Wright agreed to under the deal with prosecutors (which remained under seal on Dec. 13), and Wright, in turn, could potentially withdraw from the plea deal if the judge orders a different disposition.

“If the plea agreement is rejected and the Defendant still persists in his guilty plea, the disposition of the case may be less favorable to the Defendant than that contemplated by the plea agreement,” Mitchell, the magistrate judge, wrote in factual findings for the District Court judge who will ultimately sentence Wright.

Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Editor-Web
Editor-Web Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.
Topics: Pilots

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