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Canadian man pleads guilty to interstate transportation of a stolen plane

ST. LOUIS, Mo. - A Canadian man who stole an airplane and flew it across the U.S. border pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday. The plea is the result of an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Adam Dylan Leon, aka Yavuz Berke, 31, of Thunder Bay, Ontario, pleaded guilty to federal charges of interstate transportation of a stolen aircraft, importation of a stolen aircraft, and illegal entry. Sentencing has been set for Nov. 3, 2009.

According to court documents, Leon is a joint Turkish-Canadian citizen residing in Thunder Bay, Ontario, who had been taking aviation classes at Confederation College of Applied Arts and Technology in Thunder Bay. On April 6, Leon stole a Cessna 172 training aircraft from Confederation College, took off without authorization, and piloted the aircraft southward across the U.S. border. He did not obtain approval from air traffic control and failed to respond to radio contact.

Because of the unknown nature of the flight and Leon's lack of radio communication, law enforcement authorities were notified of the plane's location and direction of travel, and U.S. and Canadian authorities coordinated a prompt response to ensure public safety. U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Customs and Border Protection aircraft intercepted the Cessna 172 after it entered U.S. airspace and closely tracked its progress. Repeated attempts to communicate with Leon were unsuccessful. After flying the plane southward through U.S. airspace for several hours, Leon landed the plane on a road off Highway 60 near Ellsinore, Mo. He was subsequently arrested by the Missouri Highway Patrol at a grocery store in Ellsinore.

"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is charged with enforcing a wide array of laws, including those related to securing our nation's borders and combating transnational smuggling," said James Ward, resident agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in St. Louis. "This individual stole an aircraft and illegally flew it into the United States in violation of this country's immigration and customs laws. ICE works aggressively to investigate those who seek to breach the integrity of our borders."

Interstate transportation and importing a stolen aircraft each carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison; illegally entering the United States carries a penalty of up to six months in prison for a first-time offender.

ICE was assisted in the investigation by the FBI, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Thunder Bay Police of Ontario, Canada. Assistant U.S. Attorney D. John Sauer, Eastern District of Missouri, is prosecuting the case.