Man Charged Under Patriot Act -
Feds Admit Not A Terrorist!

Wayne Perry
Associated Press

"Only terrorists need to fear the USA Patriot Act..."
- John Ashcroft, US Attorney General, Sept 19, 2003

NEWARK, N.J. -- A man charged with temporarily blinding the pilot and co-pilot of an airplane with a laser beam claims he was simply using the device to look at stars with his 7-year-old daughter.
Federal authorities on Tuesday used the Patriot Act to charge David Banach, 38, with interfering with the operator of a mass transportation vehicle and making false statements to the FBI. He is the first person arrested after a recent rash of reports around the nation of lasers being beamed at airplanes.
If convicted, Banach could be sentenced to 25 years in prison and fined $500,000.
The FBI acknowledged the incident had no connection to terrorism but called Banach's actions "foolhardy and negligent."
Banach, of suburban Parsippany, admitted to federal agents that he pointed the light beam at a jet and a helicopter over his home near Teterboro Airport last week, authorities said. Initially, he claimed his daughter aimed the device at the helicopter, they said.
Banach's lawyer said his statements were given during several hours of questioning without an attorney present and that he was being harshly prosecuted because authorities were eager for an arrest.
"My client is in some ways a sacrificial lamb," attorney Gina Mendola-Longarzo said. "A message is being sent."
The jet, a chartered Cessna Citation, was landing Dec. 29 with six people aboard when a green light beam struck the windshield three times at about 3,000 feet, according to court documents. The pilot and co-pilot were temporarily blinded but were able to land the plane safely.
Two days later, a Port Authority police helicopter trying to pinpoint the origin of the beam was hit by a laser. A copter crew member then shined a spotlight on the house where the beam had originated so that officers on the ground could go there. Soon afterward, FBI agents came to Banach's house, authorities said.
Mendola-Longarzo said her client was simply using the hand-held device to look at stars with his daughter on the family's deck. She said Banach bought the device on the Internet for $100 for his job testing fiber-optic cable.
"He wasn't trying to harm any person, any aircraft or anything like that," she said.
Joseph Billy, agent in charge of the FBI's Newark bureau, said Banach's actions endangered not only the jet's crew and passengers but also "countless innocent civilians on the ground in this densely populated area."
Banach, who was released on $100,000 bail, is charged only in connection with the jet. According to the FBI, the Patriot Act does not describe helicopters as "mass transportation vehicles."
Similar incidents have been reported in Colorado Springs, Colo., Cleveland, Washington, Houston and Medford, Ore., raising fears that the light beams could temporarily blind cockpit crews and lead to accidents.
Last month, the FBI and the Homeland Security Department sent a memo to law enforcement agencies saying there is evidence that terrorists have explored using lasers as weapons. But federal officials have said there is no evidence any the current incidents were part of a terrorist plot.
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