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US: UPDATED - Portland man indicted on 2 federal charges of aiming at aircraft
Stephen Francis Bukucs, who worked as a private security guard
An AP report said Bukucs pleaded not guilty. He told a judge that he pointed at aircraft over 25 times “for excitement, for thrills”. He would listen to the resulting law enforcement response on a police scanner.
The judge ordered a mental health evaluation for Bukucs, who has no prior criminal record.
UPDATED October 25 2013: Bukucs was identified through sophisticated surveillance coordinated by the FBI, according to a search warrant application detailing the operation. Begun in August 2013, it involved the use of video-equipped aircraft to identify the laser source, secret cameras installed to monitor Bukucs’ apartment, and physical surveillance by Special Agents. An account of the operation is here.
UPDATED March 17 2015: Bukucs was sentenced to six months in federal prison on March 16 2015, with an additional three years probation after his release. Bukucs had pleaded guilty on July 15 2014 to aiming at two commercial airliner flights. Bukucs confessed to the FBI that, over several months, he had targeted up to 25 aircraft and that he did so for entertainment and as a “cat-and-mouse” game with the police who pursued him. According to the U.S. District Attorney, the laser beam Bukucs had was a high-powered version, not the type used in an office presentation.
His arrest occurred after intense air and ground surveillance by FBI agents and police officers. A task force involving the FBI, Portland police, Port of Portland police and other agencies, flew two airplanes as decoys in August 2013 to try and draw out the perpetrator. Investigators reported over 100 laser strikes from the vicinity of defendant’s apartment in 2013.
Prosecutors sought a two year sentence. The judge granted leniency (six months) because Bukucs was suffering from mental illness. His girlfriend had died from a seizure, leading him to abuse prescription painkillers and to deliberately target aircraft with the laser pointer. In court, Bukucs apologized and said he was ashamed. He knew the laser could annoy pilots but denied he had malicious intent: “I was just being stupid. I look back now and I'm so embarrassed by my actions." From a March 17 2015 FBI press release (reprinted below), a July 15 2014 Oregonian news story, a March 16 2015 Oregonian news story, and an AP report in the Greenfield Reporter.
Portland Man Charged with Aiming a Laser Pointer at Aircraft
U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Oregon
October 21, 2013
PORTLAND, OR—Stephen Francis Bukucs, 39, a resident of Northeast Portland, was arrested in Portland on Friday evening, October 18, 2013, on charges of aiming a laser pointer at two aircraft. A federal indictment unsealed this morning by the court alleges Bukucs aimed a laser pointer at United Airlines Flight 1406 and JetBlue Flight 1205 in Portland on October 13, 2013.
Bukucs is being held in custody at the Multnomah County Detention Center and will have his first court appearance today at 1:30 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis M. Hubel for arraignment on the indictment.
Knowingly aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is a felony offense under federal law, carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The arrest is the result of a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Port of Portland Police, and the Portland Police Bureau. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, and the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office also provided substantial assistance.
An indictment is only an accusation of a crime, and a defendant should be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
From an FBI Portland Division press release
Portland Resident Sentenced to Six Months in Federal Prison for Aiming a Laser Pointer at Commercial Aircraft
Stephen Francis Bukucs, a Uniformed Security Guard, Admitted Committing the Crime up to 25 Times Near Portland International Airport
U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Oregon
March 17, 2015
PORTLAND, OR—Stephen Francis Bukucs, 41, of Portland, was sentenced to six months in federal prison yesterday by U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman for two felony counts of aiming a laser pointer at commercial jetliners as they approached Portland International Airport for night landings in October 2013. Following the prison term, Bukucs must serve three years of supervised release.
On July 15, 2014, Bukucs pleaded guilty to aiming his green laser device at United Airlines Flight 1406 and Jet Blue Flight 1205 as they flew over his apartment in Northeast Portland on October 13, 2013. The laser struck both aircraft and distracted the pilots during their final descents to Portland. Bukucs confessed to the FBI that, over several months, he had targeted up to 25 aircraft and that he did so for entertainment and as a “cat-and-mouse” game with the police who pursued him. His arrest occurred after intense air and ground surveillance by FBI agents and police officers. Investigators reported over 100 laser strikes from the vicinity of defendant’s apartment in 2013, the government stated to the court.
Bukucs, a native of Portland, worked for Delta Airlines in the Portland ground crew from 1997 to 2004. From 2007 until his arrest, he worked for a private security firm, providing armed security in Portland and Vancouver, Washington.
Among his findings as part of the sentence, Judge Mosman found that “the offense involved recklessly endangering the safety of an aircraft.” The government noted at sentencing that aiming a laser at aircraft always jeopardizes aircraft safety, since it may impair pilots’ vision by causing glare or flash blindness. The action can force pilots to divert their eyes from their flight or landing path, startle them, and reduce their ability to observe obstacles.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI, the Portland Police Bureau, the Port of Portland Police and the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen F. Peifer.