PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced that Raji Yusuf, 36, of Philadelphia, PA, was sentenced to one year in prison and three years of supervised release, and was ordered to pay a $1,000 fine by United States District Judge Michael Baylson for shining a laser pointer into a Philadelphia Police helicopter while it was airborne and for violating the terms of his supervised release.
In December 2021, the defendant pleaded guilty to the charge of aiming a laser at an aircraft. The charge stemmed from an incident that occurred in June of that year when two Philadelphia police officers were operating a helicopter as part of a regular nightly patrol. At approximately 9:55 p.m., while in flight in the area of the Northeast Philadelphia Airport, their helicopter was struck multiple times with a high intensity green laser. The laser flashes illuminated the cockpit, causing the officers to temporarily see spots in their vision. After regaining normal vision, the officers pinpointed the source of the laser on the ground in the Roosevelt Mall parking lot. Using the helicopter’s flood light, the officers saw a male wearing a blue shirt and jeans, later identified as the defendant, with the laser pointer. The officers radioed for assistance and Yusuf was taken into local custody by officers on the ground. At the time, Yusuf was on federal supervision for a 2016 conviction for trafficking firearms; accordingly, he was arrested by federal authorities a few days later for violating his supervised release.
“There is a reason that aiming a laser at an aircraft is a federal offense – the consequences for those onboard and anyone in the vicinity could be disastrous,” said U.S. Attorney Williams. “Let this be a warning to anyone who might consider trying something similar: you could face serious federal prison time as a result.”
“Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft risks the safety of those onboard, as well as people on the ground. If a pilot’s vision is compromised, it could prove disastrous,” said Jacqueline Maguire, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “Mr. Yusuf made an extraordinarily bad decision — and did so while on federal supervision for his previous offense. This sentence not only holds him appropriately accountable, it shows how seriously we take it when someone uses a laser pointer in such a reckless and risky way.”
“Today’s sentencing shows that there are real consequences for pointing a laser at any aircraft,” said Joseph Harris, Special Agent-in-Charge, Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT-OIG), Northeastern Region. “DOT-OIG will continue working with our Federal and State law enforcement and prosecutorial partners to vigorously pursue anyone who chooses to compromise the safety of the Nation’s airspace.”
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Department of Transportation – Office of the Inspector General, with assistance from the Philadelphia Police Department, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Sarah Wolfe.