WASHINGTON (AP) – A Florida man who piloted his one-person aircraft through some of the nation’s most restricted airspace and landed on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol pleaded guilty in the case Friday.
Douglas Hughes’ plea in federal court in Washington had been expected. Earlier this month, Hughes told The Associated Press that he had agreed to plead guilty to a felony, operating a gyrocopter without a license.
“I have always accepted that there would be consequences for what I did,” Hughes – who has called the April 15 stunt a way to call attention to the influence of big money in politics – told The AP.
The charge carries a potential three years in prison, but prosecutors agreed not to ask for more than 10 months in prison as part of the plea deal.
One of Hughes’ attorneys, Mark Goldstone, has said he will ask that Hughes get probation when he is sentenced April 13.
Hughes – who is from Ruskin, Florida – was arrested after flying the bare-bones aircraft from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to Washington.
Hughes was a mail carrier at the time, and he was carrying letters for each member of Congress and had a Postal Service logo on the tail section of his gyrocopter. He passed through some of America’s most restricted airspace before landing on the West Lawn of the Capitol. The flight “exposed major flaws” in the capital’s air defense system, Goldstone has said.
Hughes was initially charged with offenses that carried a potential of 9.5 years in prison. He has said that he lost his job as a postal worker after the flight and that after he resolves his criminal case, he hopes to work as an activist and continue to speak out against money in politics.
It was with that interest in activism in mind that Hughes’ attorneys asked that the judge overseeing his case to allow him to participate in an April march against money in politics ahead of his sentencing. Participants plan to walk from Philadelphia to Washington and then engage in a sit-in on Capitol Hill.
Hughes’ attorney Tony Miles told Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on Friday that Hughes only wants to walk and speak, but the judge said she needed more information about the march before ruling on whether Hughes should be allowed to participate. Since his arrest, he has been required largely to stay near his home in Florida.
The judge had several questions about the rally, including how Hughes would get to Philadelphia. Hughes’ attorney Tony Miles said Hughes intends to fly. He paused, then added: “in a commercial aircraft.”