Bogus licenses allegedly sold to student fliers

April 08, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

OPA-LOCKA, Fla. -- It didn't matter that the pilots couldn't speak English. Or that they couldn't fly.

Pilot wannabes who found their way to Ernesto Arancibia, an Opa-locka flight instructor, and Edward McCorvey, a retired NTC Federal Aviation Administration safety inspector, needed only one thing, the federal investigators said: money.

The men, longtime flying buddies, allegedly helped people who wouldn't have passed the FAA flight exam buy the pilot's certificate of their choice, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Bondi said. Some of those people are still flying today.

"The defendant placed in the sky various types of pilots who are not qualified," Mr. Bondi said during a bond hearing yesterday for Mr. Arancibia and another defendant, Gregory Coogle, who is charged with obtaining bogus certificates for a commercial pilot and flight instructor.

U.S. Magistrate Peter Palermo set bond for both men, over the objections of federal prosecutors, who argued that Mr. Arancibia and Mr. Coogle may leave the country to avoid trial. They have given up their passports and must report daily to authorities.

Two other men are accused in the five-year conspiracy to trade flight certifications for cash. They are Sixto Arango, owner of Airway Charters Ltd., a small flight school at Opa-locka; and Santiago Elies, accused of obtaining a fraudulent commercial certificate, then lying to a grand jury about it. Mr. Elies was arrested Wednesday.

Instead of weeding out failing students, Mr. Arancibia allegedly helped them -- for a fee.

Mr. Arancibia "knew they were not going to be qualified because they spoke bad English or were not very good pilots," Mr. Bondi said. Pilots are required to speak English because it is the international language of aviators.

Some foreign students thought the whole deal was legal. Other students knew it was illegal but went through with it anyway.

The indictment said that Mr. Arancibia collected about $30,000 and split a portion of the cash with Mr. McCorvey, who is reportedly working in Saudi Arabia. Prosecutors are trying to find him.

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