January 26, 2010 - A Medford man was convicted today of shining a laser beam into a State Police helicopter. United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, George Naccara, Federal Security Director for the Transportation Security Administration in Boston; Warren T. Bamford, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation - Boston Field Division; and Gregory K. Null, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General Philadelphia Field Office, announced that GERARD SASSO, 51, of Medford, Massachusetts, was convicted today in U.S. District Court following a one-week jury trial of shining a powerful green laser beam into a State Police helicopter that was escorting a liquid natural gas tanker (LNG) through Boston Harbor, forcing the helicopter to abandon its escort mission. SASSO was convicted of one count of willfully interfering with an aircraft operator with reckless disregard for human life, and one count of making false statements. SASSO is the second person in the country to be convicted of lasering an aircraft in violation of 18 USC § 32(a)(5).
The evidence introduced at trial showed that on December 8, 2007, a State Police helicopter was escorting an LNG tanker through Boston Harbor to the Distrigas Terminal in Everett. At approximately 9:15 p.m., the helicopter pilots saw a strange green light coming directly towards the cockpit and immediately recognized it as a laser beam. Despite taking evasive action to avoid being hit, the pilots were struck by the laser beam, which filled the entire cockpit with an intense sparkling green light.
The pilots viewed the laser beam as a potential threat to themselves, to the LNG tanker, and to planes landing at nearby Logan Airport. With the assent of the Coast Guard, which was supervising the LNG escort mission, the pilots began flying an “S” shaped pattern towards the beam in order to identify its source without being struck in the face by the laser. As they flew closer to the beam’s source, the beam kept following them, and it struck the helicopter at least four more times. The pilots were eventually able to determine that the beam was likely coming from a window in SASSO’s third-floor apartment, which is in Medford on the Medford/Somerville line.
Police officers responded to SASSO’s apartment and interviewed him. SASSO falsely stated that he was not the person who had lasered the helicopter, that he knew nothing about the lasering incident, and that he owned no lasers. SASSO repeated these false statements several more times until police officers noticed a laser pointer on his bedside table. Confronted with this evidence, SASSO confessed that he had, in fact, lasered the helicopter and that he had hidden the green laser in his baseboard heating system. Police recovered the green laser, along with 10 other lasers, from SASSO’s apartment.
The laser used by SASSO is classified by the Food and Drug Administration as a Class IIIb laser, which is a type of laser designed only for light shows and industrial and research applications, not for use as a laser pointer or amusement device. It is at least five to ten times more powerful than an ordinary laser pointer and has a range of at least two miles.
The Honorable Joseph L. Tauro scheduled a sentencing hearing for April 29, 2010.
The charge of interfering with the operation of an aircraft carries a maximum penalty of 20 years’ imprisonment, a five-year term of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. The charge of making false statements carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, a three-year term of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
The case was investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, of which the Transportation Security Administration is a member, as well as by the Massachusetts State Police and Medford Police Department. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys William D. Weinreb and Donald L. Cabell of Ortiz’s National Security and Antiterrorism Unit.