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MailTribune.com
  • Helicopter case leads to charges of fraud

    Two officials are accused of falsifying helicopter data, including the aircraft that crashed in 2008, killing nine
  • Two Carson Helicopter Inc. officials were indicted Monday on federal charges of conspiring to defraud the U.S. Forest Service by falsifying information about the weight, balance and performance of firefighting helicopters, including one that crashed in August 2008, killing nine people, seven of them Southern Oregon firefighters.
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    • Victims of the Iron 44 crash
      Command pilot Roark Schwanenberg, 54, of Lostine
      • Check pilot Jim Ramage, 63 of Redding, Calif.
      • Firefighter David Steele, 19, Ashland
      • Firefighter Shawn Blazer, 30, Medford...
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      Victims of the Iron 44 crash
      Command pilot Roark Schwanenberg, 54, of Lostine

      • Check pilot Jim Ramage, 63 of Redding, Calif.
      • Firefighter David Steele, 19, Ashland
      • Firefighter Shawn Blazer, 30, Medford
      • Firefighter Scott Charlson, 25, Phoenix
      • Firefighter Matthew Hammer, 23, Grants Pass
      • Firefighter Edrik Gomez, 19, Ashland
      • Firefighter Bryan Rich, 29, Medford
      • Firefighter Steven "Caleb" Renno, 21, Cave Junction




      Survivors:

      • Co-pilot William Coultas
      • Firefighter Richard Schroeder Jr.
      • Firefighter Jonathan Frohreich
      • Firefighter Michael Brown




      All of the firefighters were employed by Grayback Forestry Inc. of Merlin.
  • Two Carson Helicopter Inc. officials were indicted Monday on federal charges of conspiring to defraud the U.S. Forest Service by falsifying information about the weight, balance and performance of firefighting helicopters, including one that crashed in August 2008, killing nine people, seven of them Southern Oregon firefighters.
    The allegedly false information was provided so the Merlin-based helicopter company could get $20 million in contracts, the U.S. Department of Justice claimed in a news release Monday.
    The information also was used by pilots, thereby endangering the safety of the helicopters in flight, it said.
    A Carson Sikorsky S-61N helicopter crashed Aug. 5, 2008, while fighting the Iron 44 fire in Northern California, killing nine people, including seven firefighters from Jackson and Josephine counties.
    The aircraft clipped a tree, smashing and bursting into flames, becoming the deadliest helicopter crash involving working firefighters in U.S. history.
    Steven Metheny, 42, of Central Point, and Levi Phillips, 45, of Grants Pass, were indicted last week by a federal grand jury in Medford on charges the pair schemed to defraud the U.S. Forest Service.
    Metheny, a former Carson vice president, also was charged with 22 counts of mail and wire fraud, making false statements to the Forest Service, endangering the safety of aircraft in flight, and theft from an interstate shipment.
    Phillips was the company's director of maintenance, reporting directly to Metheny.
    The 25-page indictment says that roughly between March and October 2008, Metheny and Phillips submitted bid proposals on behalf of Carson Helicopters that contained information the two knew was false.
    The bid proposals contained falsified weight and balance charts and falsely altered performance charts that were submitted so the Forest Service could determine whether the helicopters met minimum contract specifications, court documents claim.
    Prosecutors say Metheny knowingly distributed the false information to pilots and helicopter flight manuals for use in the field.
    "The falsified charts were then used by pilots, unaware of the false nature of the charts, in performing firefighting flight operations, including calculating the helicopter's maximum payload capacity during firefighting operations, thereby endangering the safety of the helicopters in flight," court documents state.
    When asked why the specifications were different than those on similar helicopters, the indictment says Metheny told the Forest Service the company had modified the engines to be more powerful.
    Calls to Metheny seeking comment Monday were not returned. Phillips does not have a listed phone number. No attorney is listed for Metheny or Phillips on the court docket.
    The men face a maximum of 20 years in prison, if convicted on the conspiracy charge. Metheny could potentially get decades more on the other charges, prosecutors said.
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