Grand jury fingers four for altering military choppers

Herald staff

SEATTLE — Four men have been indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of altering military helicopters to disguise them as civilian aircraft, U.S. Attorney Katrina Pflaumer said Thursday.

A nine-count indictment alleges that the four — James Anderson, a 39-year-old commercial airline pilot from Bellevue; Kim Powell, a 47-year-old Bellingham aircraft-parts broker; James Culliton, a 54-year-old Sacramento, Calif., lawyer; and Chester Rasberry, a 53-year-old Apple Valley, Calif., owner of a commercial helicopter company — conspired to defraud the federal government by altering military surplus Bell UH-1 helicopters to make them look like civilian Bell 204B model helicopters.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office claims the helicopters were awarded Federal Aviation Administration standard airworthiness certificates, allowing the aircraft to be used in lucrative firefighting contracts with federal and state governments.

Since the FAA does not permit military UH-1 helicopters to carry civilian passengers, government agencies pay top dollar for certified civilian helicopters.

The defendants are accused of obtaining records for civilian crashed or destroyed helicopters, then linking the records to the surplus military helicopters they illegally altered, claiming they had repaired the aircraft.

They are charged with conspiracy, fraud and making false statements.

  • Murder suspect pleads innocent: A man accused of shooting and killing his ex-girlfriend’s mother as she tried to keep him from grabbing her daughter pleaded innocent Thursday to a second-degree murder charge. Shelton Smallwood, 34, of Seattle, is charged in the July 1 killing of Jocelyn Thrash, the 45-year-old mother of his ex-girlfriend, Tiffany Thrash. Jocelyn Thrash was shot 10 times outside her home in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood as she tried to keep Smallwood from dragging her daughter into his car, according to court documents. A home-health nurse and mother of two daughters, Thrash had planned to be married days later. Smallwood was arrested early this month in Los Angeles, where the FBI found him hiding in an attic crawl space next door to a residence where he had been staying.

  • Settlement goes for children: The state Attorney General’s Office has awarded $275,000 in grants to children’s programs across the state as part of a settlement in an antitrust case lodged against Toys ‘R’ Us and three toy manufacturers. Washington and 42 other states claimed that the Toys ‘R’ Us and Hasbro, Mattel and Little Tikes violated antitrust laws by agreeing to cut off supplies of popular toys to warehouse clubs that sold the toys at lower prices than at Toys ‘R’ Us. The money will go to 27 programs statewide in grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000.

  • Commuter train delayed: Two mishaps Thursday caused a 35-minute delay on Sounder’s second morning run. The Tacoma-Seattle commuter train just began operating last week. First, a new Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway train dispatcher mistakenly identified Sounder as a freight train on its 6:50 a.m. trip to Seattle. The dispatchers control traffic from railway headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas. Sounder, which runs up to 79 mph on Burlington Northern track, was ordered to slow down to 50 mph, the speed limit for freight trains, Sound Transit officials said. During the same morning-rush-hour trip, a truck accident in Auburn knocked out power to the rail signal system. Dispatchers stopped all area trains until the source of the outage was found, Moriwaki said. Voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties approved Sounder as part of a $4 billion regional transit system in 1996. The project will eventually include an 82-mile Sounder line between Everett and Tacoma, express buses and a 21-mile light-rail line between North Seattle and SeaTac.

  • New charges for bus driver: A school bus driver charged with driving under the influence after her bus ran into a ditch could also face 21 counts of reckless endangerment, one for each elementary school student on board. No one was seriously hurt in the Sept. 1 accident. Yakima County Prosecutor Jeff Sullivan has filed a request for new charges against Rhonda R. Beck, who was driving for the West Valley School District. Beck, 35, was charged with driving under the influence after the bus veered off Cottonwood Canyon Road, ran into a ditch and struck a utility pole. She pleaded innocent to the charge in District Court. Results of toxicology tests are pending. Beck told investigators for the Yakima County sheriff’s department that she may have fallen asleep at the wheel.

  • Web money goes to school: An Internet businessman has pledged to give $3.75 million to boost minority enrollment at a private high school here. Leo Hindery’s donation to his alma mater, Bellarmine Preparatory School, will be largest gift ever given since the Jesuit school was founded 72 years ago, according to Bellarmine officials. The money, to be spread over five years, will fund an endowment providing scholarships to minority students and pay for efforts to prepare disadvantaged children for a college prep school. Hindery, who grew up in Tacoma’s North End, graduated from Bellarmine in 1965. He is now CEO of Global Crossing Ltd. and lives in Sunnyvale, Calif.
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