MEDFORD, Ore. -- A former Carson Helicopter vice president and former maintenance director are facing federal fraud charges related to helicopter contracts with the U.S. Forest Services.
A grand jury indicted Steven Metheny, 42 of Central Point and Levi Phillips, 45, of Grants Pass last week on a conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Forest Service. Metheny is also charged with 22 counts of mail and wire fraud, making false statements to the Forest Service, endangering the safety of aircraft in flight and theft from an interstate shipment.
The charges involve contracts the U.S. Forest Service awarded to Carson in 2008 for firefighting operations. The company was providing the agency with helicopters.
A Carson helicopter was involved in a Aug. 5, 2008 crash, killing nine people. The helicopter was part of the effort to put out the Iron 44 fire in Northern California.
In March, April, May and June 2008, the U.S. Forest Service began soliciting bids for helicopters to use in their fire operations, according to an affidavit supplied by the U.S. Department of Justice.
To qualify for a contract, bidders had to meet certain minimum performance specifications. The U.S. Forest Service required the actual weights of the helicopters and payload capability. The agency required the payload capability be based on the Federal Aviation Administration's performance charts. This information needed to be provided in three separate charts.
The U.S. government alleges that Metheny, the vice president, falsified information to get the bids. Federal prosecutors say the plan to get the Forest Service contracts began in March 2008 and continued through October 2008.
In order to get the contracts, Metheny and Phillips, who was serving as director of maintenance, were required to provide weight and balance documents for the helicopters to be used.
Phillips attempted to get the information from maintenance personnel in the field as well as the Carson office in Pennsylvania, according to the affidavit. When he contacted the Pennsylvania office he requested the three charts for four helicopters based in Pennsylvania. He received weight and balance documents for two of the four aircraft.
Federal prosecutors allege that Metheny and Phillips then looked for ways to determine the empty weight of the other two helicopters using the information provided for one of the Pennsylvania helicopters.
"Phillips created a mathematical formula" that Metheny could use to complete one of the charts, according to the affidavit. This formula allegedly provided the necessary calculation for the three-point scale reading of the aircraft's left main point, right main point and nose/tail point to achieve the desired empty weight of the helicopter as well as provide a center of gravity.
"Estimating the empty weight of the helicopters as part of the bid submissions to the FS [Forest Service] was a direct violation of contract requirements," the affidavit said.
On documents, Phillips was listed as the preparer for weight charts for eight helicopters listed in the bid documents. The federal government alleges he did not prepare these weight charts and the helicopters were not weighed on the scales represented in the documents. The affidavit also says the helicopters were not weighed on the days listed.
Metheny was listed as preparing the weight chart for one helicopter listed on the bid documents and signed that he witnessed the weighing. The federal affidavit alleges that Metheny did not weigh or witness the helicopter being weighed.
The affidavit in the case also shows how Metheny allegedly falsified performance records on the helicopters.
The government alleges that Metheny altered a performance chart that was attached to each bid proposal. The altered charted was labeled "Rotorcraft Flight Manual Supplemental No. 5 Power Available, Takeoff Power, 5 Min Twin, 30 Min OEI."
However, the document represented a performance enhancing 2.5 minute OEI (One Engine Inoperable) power available chart, the affidavit said. This chart was intended for emergency power operations. However, its presence in bid documents made it appear to Forest Service officials that the helicopters had greater performance capability.
As part of the bid review, Forest Service officials noticed that bidders using a same or similar model helicopter as Carson had different performance charts, the affidavit said. The Carson proposal showed the helicopter could carry a bigger payload than other operators.
Officials contacted Metheny,who said Carson had completed upgrades on the their helicopters and that had resulted in the new performance charts that showed the increased performance, according to the affidavit. The upgrades were not available to other operators because of proprietary reasons.
He allegedly resent the falsified charts to convince the officials that the bids were accurate.
"The false information Metheny supplied to the FS gave CHI [Carson Helicopters Inc.] a competitive advantage over other helicopter operators bidding on the same contracts because by using such bogus information Metheny represented that CHI helicopters could accomplish firefighting operations with a higher payload capability than allowed and, therefore, at a lower cost and best value under the FS contract specifications," the affidavit said.
The Forest Service awarded Carson contracts on April 30, 2008; June 6, 2008; June 20, 2008; and Aug. 22, 2008.
Between September 2008 and October 2008, the Forest Service began weighing the Carson helicopters. They found that all of the aircraft were over the contract bid weight by as much as 600 pounds, according to the affidavit.
Officials went back and found actual weight information on the helicopter involved in the Aug. 5 crash and discovered that it was over the contract bid proposal bid weight by 1,400 pounds, the affidavit said.
The government also alleges that the falsified weight, balance and performance documents were provided to pilots.
The conspiracy to defraud count carries a 20 year sentence. Mail and wire fraud has a 20 year sentence for each count. There is a 20 year sentence for endangering the safety of an aircraft; a 10-year sentence for interstate theft and up to five years for each false statement count. Click here to read the federal affidavit