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Tuesday, July 19, 2005
Fly the friendly skies? Got any Topamax? Lexapro?
By KIM CURTIS, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 22 minutes ago
SAN FRANCISCO - Forty pilots were arrested after an investigation found they were licensed to fly but were receiving Social Security disability payments for a variety of illnesses, federal officials said.
The pilots, who include commercial and transport pilots, claimed to be medically fit to fly airplanes. However, they may have been flying with debilitating illnesses that should have kept them grounded, ranging from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder to drug and alcohol addiction and heart conditions, said Marlon Cobar, a prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney's office in Fresno.
An 18-month review of 40,000 pilots in Northern California began in July 2003 as a
Homeland Security project to look into the fraudulent use of Social Security numbers.
When dozens of names turned up in both Social Security Administration and
Federal Aviation Administration rolls, "they realized there was probably criminal wrongdoing — either lying to the FAA or wrongfully receiving benefits," Cobar said.
The FAA immediately revoked 14 pilots' licenses and medical certificates, which are necessary to maintain a valid license, the U.S. attorney's office said. Others were referred for administrative revocation.
"We chose the most egregious," Cobar said Monday. "You can't really fly a plane if you're telling the Social Security Administration you have a disabling back condition or bipolar disorder."
Other pilots not yet charged were found to be lying about having illnesses in order to collect the Social Security payment, Cobar said.
FAA spokesman Donn Walker said it was unclear how many of the pilots flew for a living, but that at least a dozen of them held commercial or airline transport licenses.
Thirty pilots are charged with making false statements to a government agency, and 10 are charged with making and delivering a false official writing.
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