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US: Man faces 25 years in prison and fines up to $500,000

A New Jersey man was charged January 4 2005 under federal anti-terrorism laws with shining a laser beam at a charter jet flying over his home, temporarily distracting the pilots.

David W. Banach, 38, of Parsippany NJ is the first person charged in a rash of recent incidents in which lasers were shined at aircraft around the country. Justice Department officials said they do not suspect terrorism in any of the cases, but said Banach's arrest shows how seriously they take the matter.

Sentenced to two years probation; serious charges dropped

"We need to send a clear message to the public that there is no harmless mischief when it comes to airplanes," said Christopher Christie, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey.

Banach made an initial appearance in court Tuesday and was released on $100,000 bond. He was charged with interfering with a flight crew under the USA Patriot Act. He also was charged with lying to federal officers. The charges carry a maximum jail sentence of 25 years.

Unrelated incidents of laser beams hitting planes have been reported in Medford, Ore.; Colorado Springs; Cleveland; Houston and Washington.

Banach's attorney blasted federal officials for what she called an overreaction. "One would think they would want to devote their time and resources to prosecuting real terrorists, not people like my client," Gina Mendola-Longarzo told the Associated Press.

She said her client was playing with his young daughter, using the laser's narrow green beam to point at stars and illuminating trees and neighbor's houses. FBI agents and police swarmed Banach's Parsnippany, N.J., home Friday night after a green laser was pointed at a police helicopter overhead. The helicopter was carrying a charter jet pilot who was attempting to locate the source of a green laser beam that hit his flight on Dec. 29 as it prepared to land at nearby Teterboro Airport.

After being taken to an FBI office and given a lie-detector test, Banach said he had hit the jet with the beam, court documents say. During questioning by the FBI, Banach showed an agent his laser. After the agent switched it on, Banach warned him "not to shine the laser in his eyes because it could blind him," the court documents say.

Lasers have become increasingly cheap and commonplace in recent years. Thousands of inexpensive lasers used for home repair jobs were sold before Christmas, some for as little as $15.

USA Today

UPDATE: Banach faced 25 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. Under a plea bargain, Banach pleaded guilty to shining a laser beam at an airplane (another source says the charge was interfering with the operator of a mass transit vehicle). Charges of lying to the FBI were dropped. On February 15 2008 he was sentenced to two years probation with no fines or other penalties. His lawyer also says the judge restored Banach’s reputation. The New York Times reported that Banach had received threatening letters and had lost two jobs. From Super Lawyers, CBS News and the New York Times (alternate Times link here)