Bill Stokely of Flagstaff has agreed to forfeit his helicopter and not fly or own aircraft for two years in a deal that'll keep him out of prison for changing his chopper's tail number.
Stokely will also give up a claim to his Robinson R44 chopper, which was seized more than a year ago.
The agreement all but ends the bizarre case that began in October 2011 with reports of a mysterious chopper pilot stashing gas canisters all over the wildlands of Arizona. Federal officials checking into the reports uncovered no evidence of terrorism -- just a wealthy, aging, hot-dog of a pilot who didn't think rules applied to him.
Stokely's a part-time resident of Flagstaff who made his fortune with his family in a Tulsa, Oklahoma outdoor-advertising business.
He'd been stashing the canisters -- while noting their GPS coordinates -- in order to create, as he told in an interview, "gas stations all over the desert."
That's apparently not illegal. But Stokely shouldn't have been piloting a chopper at all in 2011, Federal Aviation Administration records show.
In investigating the gas-can mystery, federal agents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security staked out Flagstaff's Pulliam Airport. On October 17, 2011, the agents saw Stokely alter the tail number on his Robinson, changing a "Q" to an "O."
Stokely was evidently trying to hide the fact that he was flying, because his pilot's license wasn't active.
The Oklahoman obtained his first private pilot rotorcraft certificate in 1987. Three years later, the FAA stripped it from him because of reckless flying.
Ian Gregor, FAA spokesman, did not provide details on what led to the revocation, but wrote that Stokely had been accused of either flying too low, too close to another aircraft, or recklessly in general.
The FAA re-issued his chopper pilot's license in 1991. Stokely, an avid outdoorsman, used his expensive toy to go fishing and explore caves or other interesting locales that are inaccessible by roads.
In 2008, he failed a practical knowledge test and surrendered his license. He failed several subsequent tests; a limited students' certificate expired in 2010. Doctors thought he might be suffering from dementia, but Stokely claims he's fine. He says he's one of the most experience private chopper pilots in the country, with more than 13,000 hours of air-time.
Although Stokely told New Times in November that changing the tail number was accidental, he states in his plea agreement that he "knowingly" changed it.
The agreement calls for Stokely to forfeit to the government the helicopter, which Stokely says is his sixth. He vowed to buy another one when we talked to him. But the plea agreement takes that option away for a while. Sentencing will be continued for two years -- meaning Stokely needs to keep his feet on the ground (or let someone else do the flying) if he's to avoid a potential term in prison of up to three years.
Two years should give the 69-year-old enough time to study harder for his flight tests -- or decide if it's time to hang up his wings.
Click here to read the lodged plea agreement filed in Arizona U.S. District Court last week in the case.