Gyrocopter Pilot Douglas Hughes: ‘I’m Proud of What I Did’
Douglas Hughes said Friday he plans to plead guilty to one felony charge related to his gyrocopter flight to the Capitol in April — but he is not ashamed.
The Florida man flew from Pennsylvania to the Capitol on April 15, to deliver letters to Congress pushing for a campaign finance overhaul. He was immediately arrested for breaching restricted airspace and later indicted on two felony and four misdemeanor charges. After several months of negotiations, Hughes is poised to accept a plea deal this month. “I’m proud of what I did and I’m not going to be ashamed of accepting a felony conviction,” Hughes said in a phone interview with CQ Roll Call. “Somebody sent me a link to a song on YouTube, the title of which says it all. It says, ‘Have You Been to Jail for Freedom?’ It says it all.”
The Associated Press first reported the deal Thursday night. Hughes confirmed Friday that he plans to plead guilty to one felony count of operating an aircraft without a license, and faces a maximum sentence of three years in jail.
Hughes had previously rejected two plea deals that included jail time, and he said he accepted the most recent deal because his defense attorney, Mark Goldstone, can argue for no time behind bars.
“The real thing for me is that I want to get back into the fight against money in politics,” Hughes said. “This is a plea deal that will limit the amount of time that I could spend in jail and it guarantees that I will be back out into the fight before the fight is finished.”
Hughes said he expected friends he’s made in the campaign finance movement since his flight to the Capitol to rally around him before his sentencing. He expects to be sentenced roughly three months after a Nov. 20 trial, where he will plead guilty.
Hughes said he expects campaign finance to be a “pivotal” issue of the 2016 elections, though he also noted he will not be able to vote given his felony conviction.
“The other aspect of the settlement that really stings is they’re not going to let me have my gyro back,” Hughes added. He did not know what was going to happen to his low-flying vehicle.
Meanwhile, Hughes’ legal team is in the midst of negotiations with the Federal Aviation Administration over a fine levied to Hughes for allegedly violating regulations.
Hughes said the FAA charged him with an $11,000 fine for his flight. But he is hoping to get that fine reduced, since he is relying on Social Security after losing his job with the U.S. Postal Service after his flight to the Capitol.