Counterfeit in the cockpit Bethesda man charged with theft, fraud after posing as United pilot

October 03, 1998|By Candus Thomson fTC | Candus Thomson fTC,SUN STAFF

He flew thousands of miles in the jet cockpits of major airlines.

He bantered with pilots about company rules, the latest equipment and retirement investments.

But the lanky, sandy-haired man in the United Airlines uniform who claimed to be a pilot was an impostor, Montgomery County prosecutors say -- a con artist who talked his way into one of the most secure places in the country, and talked real pilots and others out of their money.

Shykind, 31, of Bethesda, is charged with theft and fraud for allegedly bilking 14 people -- airline employees and friends -- of $30,700 over a three-year period that ended in May 1996.

UPDATE: The charges were ultimately dropped and the court records were later expunged.

He was arrested Dec. 1 and released on $100,000 bond. A Circuit Court judge has ordered an outpatient psychiatric evaluation of Shykind at the state's Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center in Jessup and will hold a competency hearing Oct. 26.

His wife, Heidi Shykind, 33, a former flight attendant for American Airlines, also has been charged with theft.

Aviation experts say it would take a very good actor with an extraordinary disguise and line of patter to penetrate cockpit security.

A spokesman for United Airlines, Andy Plews, said the company was unaware of any security breach. "We have very stringent security measures," he said. "We make it very difficult for people to have access."

Neither lawyers for the Shykinds nor prosecutors would comment on the case. Ten of the 14 alleged victims were located by The Sun, but they would not talk about Shykind.

But court documents and interviews with people who know Shykind paint a picture of a man who went to great lengths to persuade others that he was a captain for United Airlines.

Acquaintances and court records say Shykind had a United uniform and fake company identification card that he would flash to get free flights. That he often accompanied his wife on her flights added to his authenticity.

When police searched his apartment, they found a well-worn procedures manual for a Boeing 767 passenger jet.

"If you can fool flight attendants and pilots, you've been studying," said a longtime American employee who was familiar with the Shykinds and asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. "He knew union stuff, policies and operating procedures."

Aviation experts say such cases are extremely rare.

Rules governing who can ride in the jump seat vary from airline to airline. Generally, however, pilots hoping to catch a free ride have to go to the company operations office at the airport, show identification and fill out a request form, which is given to the captain of the flight. It is up to the captain to grant access.

"Are they [the airlines] careless? In retrospect, yes," said Michael Pangia, former chief litigator for the Federal Aviation Administration. "But he had the uniform and ID. You start talking aviation and flying and the pilots think, 'OK, you're one of the club.' "

Daniel Shykind was popular in the tight-knit community of airline pilots. He played piano at parties and told tales about his "1 1/2 kills" as a Air Force fighter pilot during the Persian Gulf war.

Until recently, he was listed in the Montgomery County telephone book as "Capt." Daniel Shykind. He even wrote a letter in 1995 to the Washington Post Magazine, identifying himself as an airline pilot and decrying shoddy and deceptive flying practices.

But Shykind was not an Air Force pilot, and never advanced beyond classroom aviation lessons.

Heidi Shykind, a 10-year employee for American, met her husband while she was based in Miami and living in Alexandria, Va. They married five years ago and rented an apartment in Bethesda.

At some point, court documents allege, Heidi Shykind became part of her husband's scheme.

Daniel Shykind allegedly told pilots that he and colleagues on the South American run were buying loose change from tourists returning to the United States for 40 percent of face value.

This "cheap money" would be deposited in South American banks and later withdrawn and exchanged for U.S. currency. The only thing required of Shykind's investors was seed money to open the bank accounts and perform the exchanges.

In the spring of 1997, an American Airlines pilot tripped up Daniel Shykind on a technical question and reported his suspicions to superiors.

American sent a message to its pilots, instructing them not to allow Shykind in their cockpits.

A court order forbids Daniel Shykind from talking to his victims and their families and the detectives and prosecutors assigned to the case.

Daniel Shykind is scheduled to stand trial March 8.

The trial for Heidi Shykind has not been scheduled.

Pub Date: 10/03/98

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