January 13, 2017
Former Carson Helicopter Executives Suspended for Fraud
Effective January 13, 2017, Steven Metheny, former vice president of Carson Helicopters, Inc. (Carson) and Levi Phillips, Carson’s former director of maintenance, were suspended from any contractual relationships, either as a contractor or subcontractor, with any Federal agency throughout the executive branch. This suspension action was taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on behalf of the affected agencies.
On June 16, 2015, Metheny was sentenced in U.S. District Court, Medford, Oregon, to 151 months of incarceration for making false statements and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) related to helicopter services for firefighting operations. Phillips cooperated with the investigation and was sentenced to 2 years in prison on conspiracy charges for his role in the scheme.
USFS firefighting contracts require 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 to award the company approximately $51 million in firefighting contracts. Metheny also caused the falsified information to be placed in the flight manuals of Carson aircraft. Unaware that this information was incorrect, pilots used it to calculate the maximum payload capacity of their helicopters during firefighting operations, endangering their safety during flight. Phillips, who reported directly to Metheny, admitted to conspiring with him to falsify documents related to helicopter performance.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) briefed DOT-OIG regarding the safety investigation of the Carson helicopter that crashed in Northern California on August 5, 2008, while performing contracted firefighting services for the USFS. Nine people died, and four others were seriously injured in the crash.
DOT-OIG conducted this investigation with the USDA-OIG, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation.