GREENEVILLE, Tenn. – On June 16, 2020, Richard Paul Harper, 67, of Norwich, Great Britain, entered a guilty plea to one count of attempted aircraft parts fraud in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Greeneville. Sentencing has been set for October 20, 2020, at 10:15 a.m., in U.S. District Court at Knoxville.
Harper faces a term of up to ten years in Federal prison, a fine of $250,000, and supervised release of three years.
Harper owned and controlled a business known as Apple Helicopter International, with offices in Great Britain and Bristol, Tennessee. At one time, Apple held a license from the Federal Aviation Administration, and was engaged internationally in purchasing, refurbishing, and selling used helicopters and helicopter parts.
As part of the written plea agreement, Harper admitted that he obtained a helicopter with significant damage to its underbelly. Instead of performing necessary, costly repairs, the fuselage of the helicopter was switched with the fuselage of another helicopter that had crashed in New Jersey, and the original data plates were affixed to the fuselage of that helicopter. This data plate switch caused the true history of the helicopter to be concealed. Harper, with intent to defraud, actively marketed and tried to sell the resulting helicopter with switched data plates to unsuspecting purchasers.
Ultimately, Harper attempted to sell the helicopter to an undercover agent posing as an aircraft broker. During the attempt, Harper concealed the true history of the aircraft and coordinated the provision of fraudulent maintenance records to the undercover agent. Following the filing of a criminal complaint and the issuance of an arrest warrant, agents arrested Harper when he entered the United States in Los Angeles, California on January 24, 2020, on his way to a national helicopter convention.
“Fraudulent activity of any kind is reprehensible and detrimental, but fraudulent activity of this kind that poses a particular danger to those who fly the aircraft and are on the ground is particularly egregious,” said U.S. Attorney J. Douglas Overbey. “I want to commend our law enforcement partners in this case for bringing the perpetrator of this fraud to justice.”
“The plea agreement entered by Harper shows that intentionally concealing material facts about an aircraft used to verify the safety and airworthiness is unacceptable,” stated Todd Damiani, Regional Special Agent-In-Charge, U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General. “Together with our Federal and prosecutorial partners, we will continue working to preserve the highest levels of integrity and safety within the Nation’s aviation system.”
“Individuals who seek monetary gain through the fraudulent sale of faulty equipment place unsuspecting consumers at risk of serious injury or death,” said Jerry C. Templet Jr., Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Nashville. “Strong partnerships among federal regulatory and law enforcement agencies are critical to public safety both in the air and on the ground.”
The plea agreement is the result of an ongoing investigation by the Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Mac D. Heavener, III, Assistant U.S. Attorney, represented the United States.