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GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — Acting U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge announced that Sean Michael Fitzgerald, 35, of Boca Raton, Florida, was convicted today by a federal jury of operating a common carrier under the influence of alcohol. Chief United States District Judge Robert J. Jonker presided over the four-day trial. Fitzgerald faces a statutory maximum term of imprisonment of fifteen years at the time of sentencing.
The proofs at trial established that on August 25, 2016, Fitzgerald arrived at the Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, Michigan, to co-pilot a private charter to Bedford, Massachusetts. On the way to the airport and once there, witnesses observed obvious signs of intoxication, including slurred speech, the smell of alcohol on his breath, and bloodshot eyes. Fitzgerald proceeded to the plane and began the pre-flight preparation process before he was arrested. Among other tasks, he inspected the plane, completed systems checks, turned on the auxiliary power unit, and received clearance for the flight’s route from air traffic control. After the arrest, his blood alcohol content was measured at 0.343%.
“Aircraft are complex machines and intoxicated operation poses a danger to passengers, the ground crew at the airport, and the public even before they begin to taxi,” Acting U.S. Attorney Birge said. “I commend airport personnel and law enforcement for their swift action to prevent this defendant from flying the plane, but that does not lessen the gravity of his crime.”
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Special Agent in Charge David P. Gelios commented that: “Today's verdict demonstrates how alert members of our community, coupled with strong and dedicated law enforcement action, continues to keep people safe. This diligence prevented what could have been a tragic example of the dangers of alcohol use and operating any kind of vehicle or aircraft.”
The FBI and the Traverse City Police Department investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Clay M. West and Justin M. Presant prosecuted it.