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.
    Talk to us

    > Give us your news tips.

    > Send us a letter to the editor.

    > More Herald contact information.

  • More in Local News

    Snohomish residents Barbara Bailey, right, and Beth Jarvis sit on a gate atop a levee on Bailey’s property on Monday, May 13, 2024, at Bailey Farm in Snohomish, Washington. Bailey is concerned the expansion of nearby Harvey Field Airport will lead to levee failures during future flood events due to a reduction of space for floodwater to safely go. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
    Harvey Field seeks to reroute runway in floodplain, faces new pushback

    Snohomish farmers and neighbors worry the project will be disruptive and worsen flooding. Ownership advised people to “read the science.”

    Grayson Huff, left, a 4th grader at Pinewood Elementary, peeks around his sign during the Marysville School District budget presentation on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023 in Marysville, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    State OKs Marysville plan with schools, jobs on chopping block

    The revised plan would mean the loss of dozens of jobs and two schools — still to be identified — in a school district staring down a budget crunch.

    IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
    Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

    The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

    The Trestle’s junction with I-5 is under evaluation (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
    Here’s your chance to give feedback on the US 2 trestle and its future

    Often feel overwhelmed, vulnerable and on shaky ground? So is the trestle. A new $17 million study seeks solutions for the route east of Everett.

    John Pederson lifts a flag in the air while himself and other maintenance crew set up flags for Memorial Day at Floral Hills Cemetery on Friday, May 24, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    Volunteers place thousands of flags by veterans’ graves in Lynnwood

    Ahead of Memorial Day, local veterans ensure fellow military service members are never forgotten.

    Brian Hennessy leads a demonstration of equipment used in fire training at the Maritime Institute in Everett, Washington on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
    ‘Ready to go full sail’: Maritime Institute embarks at Port of Everett

    The training facility offers Coast Guard-certified courses for recreational boaters and commerical vessel operators.

    George Beard poses for a photo outside of the the Stanwood Library in Stanwood, Washington on Wednesday, May 8, 2024.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
    From sick to the streets: How an illness left a Stanwood man homeless

    Medical bills wiped out George Beard’s savings. Left to heal in his car, he got sicker. Now, he’s desperate for housing. It could take years.

    Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
    Lawsuit says Snohomish County deputies not justified in Sultan shooting

    Two deputies repeatedly shot an unarmed Sultan man last year, body camera video shows. An internal investigation is pending.

    An airplane is parked at Gate M9 on Tuesday, May 21, 2024 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois. (Jordan Hansen/The Herald)
    Good luck to Memorial Day travelers: If you’re like me, you’ll need it

    I spent a night in the Chicago airport. I wouldn’t recommend it — but with flight delays near an all-time high, you might want to pack a pillow.

    Editorial cartoons for Friday, May 24

    A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

    Cascade’s Mia Walker, right, cries and hugs teammate Allison Gehrig after beating Gig Harbor on Thursday, May 23, 2024 in Lacey, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    Seniors Wilson, Tripp power Cascade softball past Gig Harbor

    The pair combined for three homers as the Bruins won the Class 3A state softball opening-round game.

    The original Mountlake Terrace City Council, Patricia Neibel bottom right, with city attorney, sign incorporation ordinance in 1954. (Photo provided by the City of Mountlake Terrace)
    Patricia Neibel, last inaugural MLT council member, dies at 97

    The first woman on the council lived by the motto, “Why not me?” — on the council, at a sheriff’s office in Florida, or at a leper colony in Thailand.

    Support local journalism

    If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.