Brazil Justice Sentences American Pilots to Four Years in Prison Commuted to Community Service

American pilots Paladino and LeporeJoseph Lepore and Jan Paladino, the American pilots who are accused by Brazil to have caused the death in 2006 of 154 people when the small executive jet they piloted hit a Boeing 737 over the Amazon have been sentenced in absentia by a Brazilian court in the state of Mato Grosso to 4 years and four months of prison in a semi-open facility, which was immediately commuted to community service .

Lepore and Paladino, the judge ruled, will have to serve their sentence in a Brazilian institution in the United States. The original sentence was detention in a halfway house, which was commuted by judge Murilo Mendes from Sinop, a city in Mato Grosso. The sentence that can be appealed also determines that both pilots are forbidden from working as pilots.

The judge rejected, however, the request of the federal prosecutor (MPF), who had asked that the American be compelled to repair the damage they caused the victims’ families. The judge argued that he had not enough data in the case to arrive at an estimate of losses.

The prosecution accused the pilots of neglect at the time they set up their flight plan, by failing to inform the Brazilian air control that the aircraft conducted by them, the Legacy jet manufactured by Brazilian company Embraer, had no authorization to fly in airspace with reduced vertical separation minimum (RVSM).

They also charged the pilots with turning off the collision avoidance system (TCAS) and keeping it off during the whole flight, according to the report produced by an expert and also by the Cenipa, Brazil’s Center for Research and Prevention of Accidents.

The crash occurred in September 29, 2006, over the Amazon Forest, in the north of Mato Grosso state. The Legacy jet piloted by the Americans collided with Gol Airlines’ Boeing 737.  All 154 people aboard, passengers and crew died. After leaving Manaus, the Gol flight was to stop in Brazilian capital Brasília and then go on to São Paulo.

After the crash, Lepore and Paladino, despite some damage in the Legacy jet, were able control the plane and land it at the Brazilian Air Force’s Air Base in Serra do Cachimbo, in the state of Pará.

Four flight controllers had also been accused by the prosecution of having caused the accident. Judge Murilo Mendes tried the case in 2008, summarily absolving Felipe dos Santos Reis and Leandro José Santos de Barros a partially absolving the other two: Jomarcelo Fernandes dos Santos and Lucivando Tibúrcio de Alencar.

Currently, Paladino works at American Airlines while Lepore is still an employee at ExcelAire, the air taxi company ExcelAire from Long Island, that owned the Legacy that crashed.

For Theodomiro Dias Neto, the pilots’ attorney in Brazil, the sentence wasn’t too far from what the defense was looking for. He says the judge
acquitted the Americans of 5 of the 6 charges of negligent conduct they were accused of. “It is a huge distance from what was said in the early days of the accident,” he said.

He announced he will appeal the sentence, however, because the judge wasn’t consistent at the time of passing the sentence, ruling for a punishment that is too severe.

The sentence also didn’t please the relatives of victims. “They’ll just go to have coffee at the Brazilian Embassy and the judge thinks this is enough. Nothing will happen,” said Rosane Gutjahr, whose husband died in the crashed plane. “They will continue free, living a normal life while we go on crying.”

The lawyer for the families, who served as assistant prosecutor, also announced he will appeal the decision.

“By all evidence presented, we expected full condemnation, with the maximum penalty to be served inside a prison. Although the penalty is high, it’s useless to replace it with community service in their country of origin,” said Dante D’Aquino, the lawyer who represents the Association of the Victims’ Families.

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