FBI papers show how agents nabbed Northeast Portland man accused of pointing laser beams at planes [The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.]
(Oregonian (Portland, OR) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 24--Police and FBI agents earlier this month employed a novel technique to catch a Northeast Portland man accused of pointing a high-powered laser beam at airliners descending into Portland International Airport.
Agents and Portland police flew airplanes over the vicinity after dark in August to draw the attention of the person responsible for aiming big green beams at the cockpits of airliners, causing extreme danger to air crews and passengers, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court.
When the beam struck one of the investigation team's planes, police and FBI agents drew a bead on the locale where it appeared to originate, Special Agent Jake Green wrote in the affidavit. Then they secretly installed surveillance cameras outside an apartment on the city's northeast side.
The cameras eventually captured their suspect, Stephen F. Bukucs, aiming a laser at two commercial airliners, according to the affidavit.
Late last week, a federal grand jury in Portland handed up an indictment that accused Bukucs of two counts of pointing a laser at aircraft on Oct. 13. Bukucs pleaded not guilty to the charges on Monday and was released from jail.
The FBI arrested their 39-year-old target last Friday, finding that he worked as a security guard for G4S Secure Solutions (USA) Inc. A G4S spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday that the company placed Bukucs on administrative leave "pending the outcome of a law enforcement investigation."
Bukucs pleaded not guilty on Monday to two counts of aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft, federal charges that each carry a potential punishment of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
PDX has one of the nation's highest numbers of reported incidents in which people on the ground target aircraft with laser beams, Green wrote in his affidavit. The airport had 120 such incidents in 2012, he wrote, and officials say PDX is on pace to nearly double that number this year.
"When someone targets an aircraft with a laser pointer, the light from the laser expands from the fine beam at the origination point to a wide beam of light," Green wrote. "According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), pilots can experience detrimental effects, including distractions, glare, after images, flash blindness, and, in extreme cases, eye damage."
On Aug. 10, the FBI teamed with Portland police, Clackamas County sheriff's deputies, the FAA, Transportation Safety Administration, and the Port of Portland Police Department to target the skies around the Gateway Transit Station and a neighborhood to the south, where previous laser incidents had occurred.
"The purpose of the surveillance was to track the ground-based lasers targeting aircraft approaching PDX," according to the FBI affidavit. "Each plane was equipped with video surveillance cameras."
The FBI and Portland police put at least three planes in the air late that evening, all of which were targeted by green ground-based lasers. A laser beam also hit Alaska Airlines flight 619, the FBI document reports.
Investigators in the air told police on the ground where they thought the green lasers originated. Two port police officers sitting in the Fred Meyer parking lot at 1111 NE 102nd Ave. walked to an apartment complex on Northeast Irving Street and Northeast 99th Avenue, where they spied a man in a white T shirt in the back yard of a duplex.
The officers watched for a moment as the man cupped his eyes for a better view of the sky, where a plane flew. Suddenly the man started moving equipment into an apartment, including what appeared to be a pole or tripod. They watched as the man retreated into the home, shut off the lights and stood behind a sliding glass door.
The laser strikes ceased.
FBI Special Agent Travis Gluesenkamp later determined that one of the laser beams originated at the apartment complex at 827 NE 99th Ave., in the vicinity of Apartment 35.
On September 6, Gluesenkamp and Green reviewed recordings from a pair of cameras the FBI had mounted outside the apartment weeks earlier. The cameras were equipped to capture nighttime images with infrared technology.
The cameras captured images of their subject, later identified as Bukucs, carrying a laser on a few occasions in August and September. But their big break came this month.
On the evening of Oct. 15, the FBI reviewed recordings again made by its surveillance cameras. The images showed Bukucs walk into a camera frame, pull something out of his pants pocket and point it at the sky, according to the affidavit. Later that night, Bukucs repeated the action.
The government accuses Bukucs of pointing his laser beam at United Flight 1406, which was 1,700 feet in the air, and JetBlue Flight 1205, which was 7,500 above.
In court this week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen F. Peifer told a magistrate that when investigators arrested Bukucs, they learned that he had gotten thrills listening to radio traffic about the incidents on a police scanner.
On the night of his arrest, investigators searched Bukucs and his 2004 Ford Crown Victoria, but seized no evidence from either. But when they searched his apartment, they seized a green laser in its case, two black T shirts, and a Radio Shack police scanner.
Peifer said in court that Bukucs acknowledged that he had pointed his laser at about 25 different planes before his arrest.
-- Bryan Denson
(c)2013 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)
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