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Iranian Pilot Sentenced to 27 Months in Prison for Stealing U.S. Pilot’s Identity to Obtain Federal Aviation Administration Credentials

9 Mar

An Iranian man was sentenced today in Houston to serve 27 months in prison for using personally identifying information stolen from a U.S. pilot to fraudulently obtain a U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate and flight instructor certificate.  At today’s sentencing hearing, the government indicated that the defendant sought the FAA credentials to allow him to fly aircraft for profit, and that there was no evidence that he was engaged in any terrorism-related activity.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson of the Southern District of Texas made the announcement.

Nader Ali Sabouri Haghighi, 41, of Iran, pleaded guilty on Nov. 3, 2014, to four counts of identity theft related to his use of the victim pilot’s passport and personally identifying information to fraudulently obtain the FAA credentials at issue.  U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt of the Southern District of Texas imposed the sentence.

An ATP certificate is the highest grade of certificate issued by the FAA.  It authorizes the holder to pilot multi-engine aircraft under U.S. aviation regulations.

At his plea hearing, Haghighi admitted that he stole the identity of the victim pilot, which he used to obtain certain FAA credentials.  These credentials permit a pilot to fly multi-engine aircraft, and have strict requirements for training, knowledge and experience.  Haghighi had never been issued these specific credentials, and a general pilot’s license he had previously been issued had been revoked by the FAA.

Haghighi admitted that he used the victim pilot’s information to log onto the Airman Services Records System, an on-line database used by the FAA to monitor and regulate persons authorized to fly aircraft, posing as the victim pilot.  He then changed the contact information associated with the victim pilot’s profile and requested a replacement ATP certificate and flight instructor certificate.

Haghighi also admitted that he fraudulently obtained a credit card in the victim pilot’s name and used the credit card to pay for the replacement FAA credentials.

According to court records, on Sept. 15, 2012, Haghighi crashed an airplane in Bornholm, Denmark, while in possession of the victim’s ATP certificate.  After facing criminal charges in Denmark and Germany, Haghighi returned to Iran, only to later resurface in Indonesia.  He was finally arrested in Panama, where he waived extradition to the United States in August 2014.

The case was investigated by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation, with significant assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Diplomatic Security Service of the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and the FBI also provided significant assistance in Haghighi’s apprehension and extradition.  Assistance was also provided by the Bornholms Politi (Denmark Police).  The case was prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney William A. Hall Jr. of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Feazel of the Southern District of Texas