Man gets two years for flying stolen plane to US

ST. LOUIS – A Turkish-Canadian man was sentenced Tuesday to two years in federal prison for stealing a plane in Canada and flying over three states before landing along a dark southern Missouri highway.

Adam Dylan Leon might have received only 12 to 18 months. But U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw went beyond federal sentencing guidelines in deciding punishment.

Shaw said the 31-year-old’s actions posed risks to himself and others, cost the government $230,000 to keep fighter jets in the air for seven hours tracking him, and caused the Madison, Wis., capitol to evacuate.

He also had some advice for Leon, who said he had hoped to be shot down. His attorney, Lucille Liggett, had asked for leniency, saying her client suffered from severe depression from the death of his parents in 2002 in Turkey.

Shaw told Leon it would be worth his while to see “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the classic Frank Capra film starring James Stewart, about a despairing man who comes to know through an angel what life would have been like if he never had lived. Leon said he hadn’t see it.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Sauer said the sentence was fitting for a “dangerous and harmful course of conduct,” and hopes it will deter others from such behavior.

“Law enforcement response was excellent, competent and swift,” Sauer said. “It never ended up being a serious imminent threat to anyone’s security.”

Brady Randus, a friend from Confederation College Flight School in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where the plane was stolen, wrote in a letter to the judge that he knew Leon was “honest, trustworthy and dependable” and an intelligent student who was at the top of his class and well-liked by others in the program.

He wrote that Leon’s actions were “shocking” and “totally out of his character.” The friend’s father, Karl Randus, agreed, saying in his letter that Leon’s actions came on the anniversary of his parents’ death. “We can’t imagine what he was thinking, but we care about Adam, he is a good person, and we hope there will be a chance for leniency for him.”

Leon, who was born Yavuz Berke in Turkey before moving to Canada, changing his name, and becoming a naturalized citizen, admitted that on April 6, he stole a four-seat Cessna 172 from his flight school and crossed the U.S. border. Leon landed the plane more than seven hours later on a road off of Highway 60 near Ellsinore, Mo.

U.S. Department of Defense aircraft intercepted the plane after it entered American airspace and tried unsuccessfully to contact him.

Authorities said the plane was nearly out of fuel when Leon landed it near Ellsinore.

The Highway Patrol said Leon got a ride from a passer-by to a store, where he bought a Gatorade and sat at a booth until authorities arrived.

Leon pleaded guilty in August to interstate transportation of a stolen aircraft, importation of a stolen aircraft and illegal entry.