Former Carson Helicopter Vice President Sentenced to Over 12 Years in Federal Prison
On June 16, 2015, Steven Metheny, former vice president of Carson Helicopters, Inc. (Carson), Grants Pass, Oregon, was sentenced in U.S. District Court, Medford, Oregon. The court sentenced him to 151 months incarceration for making false statements and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) related to helicopter services for firefighting operations. Levi Phillips, former Carson Director of Maintenance, cooperated with the investigation. He was sentenced to two years in prison on conspiracy charges for his role in the scheme. The two had pleaded guilty to these charges previously.
The investigation revealed that USFS firefighting contracts required that helicopters meet certain minimum payload specifications. Metheny admitted that in 2008, he submitted bid proposals to the USFS with falsified weight and balance records. He made it appear that Carson helicopters met minimum contract specifications which were used in evaluating whether they would be awarded the contracts. Carson subsequently won approximately $51 million in firefighting contracts. Metheny also caused the falsified information to be placed in the flight manuals of Carson aircraft. This information was used by unaware pilots to calculate the maximum payload capacity of their helicopters during firefighting operations, thereby endangering their safety during flight. Phillips, who reported directly to Metheny, admitted to conspiring with him to falsify documents related to helicopter performance.
We began our investigation when the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) briefed OIG regarding its ongoing safety investigation of the Carson helicopter crash that occurred in Northern California on August 5, 2008. NTSB advised that the helicopter crashed while performing contracted firefighting services for the USFS. Nine people died and four others were seriously injured in the crash.
We conducted this investigation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, OIG, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation Division.