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Man faces prison for uncertificated flight

Defendant agreed to pay for Alaska hangar damage

A nonpilot with a long criminal history who crashed an illegally modified Piper PA–18 into a hangar in an Alaska airpark community two years ago faces a lengthy federal prison sentence to be imposed in August for flying without a pilot certificate and displaying fraudulent aircraft registration markings.

Michael Anthony Roberts pleaded guilty to flying a Piper Super Cub without a pilot certificate following a 2022 accident at Wolf Lake Airport in Alaska. Google Earth image.

Michael Anthony "Tony" Roberts, 63, who gained notoriety as a "celebrity wildlife fugitive" more than a decade before the events charged in his most recent indictments, pleaded guilty to two federal charges on June 6. Under the terms of a plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to drop a subsequent charge of firearms possession by a convicted felon that was lodged following Roberts' May 3, 2023 arrest. Roberts admitted he was guilty of operating an aircraft without a pilot certificate and displaying fraudulent registration markings, charges stemming from a 2022 aircraft accident at Wolf Lake, a private airport between Wasilla and Palmer, Alaska, "home to a unique community of resident flyers," according to the airfield's website.

According to the NTSB final report, Roberts told investigators that the engine began to lose power soon after takeoff (he was alone in the aircraft) at 12:32 p.m. local time on February 27, 2022. Roberts, encountering difficulty 100 feet into the climb, attempted to restore power by applying carburetor heat and changing the fuel tank selector switch, "but those actions did not restore power," in part, NTSB investigators noted, because the Maule-type fuel selector switch had been mislabeled.

"Specifically, the position labeled 'both' was for the right tank, the position labeled 'left' was the 'off' position, the position labeled 'right' was for the left tank, and the position labeled 'off' was for both tanks," investigators noted. "The examination of the engine, its accessories, and the other fuel system components revealed no mechanical malfunctions or anomalies that would have precluded normal operation."

Roberts suffered minor injuries during the ensuing emergency landing when the aircraft "impacted a burn barrel and came to rest against a hangar, which resulted in substantial damage to the wings and fuselage," NTSB investigators wrote. Terms of the plea agreement Roberts signed May 5 include paying $1,000 restitution to the owner of the hangar for the cost of repairs.

"At the time of the crash, N99640 was registered with the FAA as a normal category aircraft with a standard airworthiness certificate," according to the plea agreement, "But the defendant had installed several aircraft components … that were not permitted for a PA–18 series normal category aircraft with a standard airworthiness certificate, including Shock Monster landing gear shock absorbers, a Catto 90 [inch propeller], a Javron Angle of Incidence Kit, extended flaps of unknown manufacture, and a Lycoming O-360-A1A 180 HP Engine. To conceal these prohibited items, the defendant knowingly and willfully displayed placarding on the starboard window of N99460 that read 'EXPERIMENTAL' in 2-inch black letters, falsely indicating N99640 was registered as an experimental category aircraft."

In conceding those facts are true, Roberts waived his right to appeal any sentence imposed by the court. The potential penalties for both charges listed in the plea agreement are identical: three years in prison, a $250,000 fine, one year of supervised release, and a $100 special assessment.

Roberts also agreed to abandon any claim to two rifles and ammunition that were seized when he was arrested, weapons that he possessed illegally based on a 2014 felony criminal mischief conviction in Alaska state court. Prosecutors agreed to drop the firearms charge, and Roberts remained in federal custody pending his sentencing scheduled for August 7, court records show.The Piper PA-18 Super Cub was damaged during an emergency landing attempt. NTSB photo.
Jim Moore
Jim Moore
Managing Editor-Digital Media
Digital Media Managing Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.

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