(NEXSTAR) – A man from Mississippi is facing up to five years in federal prison after admitting to shining lasers at planes flying into the Memphis airport. Eugene Conrad, 52, pleaded guilty in court earlier this week, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.
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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) first notified the FBI’s Memphis Field Office of the laser strikes on July 15, having recorded 49 reports of laser strikes between Jan. 1 and July 15. The incidents mostly concerned FedEx planes, they said.
Agents conducted an investigation the next day, at which time the Memphis International Airport reported yet another laser strike. The laser activity stopped before agents could identify the source.
Weeks later on August 11, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation used an aircraft to investigate more laser activity from the area, this time narrowing down the source to Benton County, Mississippi. Agents soon arrived at a residence to find Conrad “walking around a house while lasering the plane.”
He admitted to shining the lasers at incoming planes for “several months,” federal prosecutors say.
Conrad now faces up to five years in prison without parole, followed by three years of probation. He’s may also be ordered to pay a $250,000 fine. His sentencing is scheduled for March 10, 2022.
The FAA, meanwhile, continues to warn against shining lasers at aircraft following increasing reports of incidents in 2020 (and despite fewer actual planes in the sky). “Intentionally aiming lasers at aircrafts poses a safety threat to pilots and violates federal law,” the FAA writes on its website. “Many high-powered lasers can incapacitate pilots flying aircraft that may be carrying hundreds of passengers.”
Violators are subject to both criminal prosecution and civil penalties, which can amount to as much as $11,000 per violation.