WASHINGTON — The man who piloted a gyrocopter onto the Capitol grounds last month to protest big money in politics has trumpeted his move, but on Thursday he pleaded not guilty to six federal charges against him.
Dough Hughes also said the stunt was “absolutely” worth it, despite facing more than nine years in prison if convicted on all counts.
“I’ve always been concerned that I might spend time behind bars, and I’m not eager for jail time,” Hughes said Thursday to reporters. “I accepted the consequences of what I was doing because I believe it is critical we return our democracy to the people, and that can be done with the solutions that have already been defined.”
Hughes drew national attention when he landed a small manned aircraft on the West Lawn on April 15 in violation of multiple no-fly zones and without having notified authorities of his plans, police say.
The 61-year-old Florida mailman carried letters for every member of Congress urging them to reform campaign finance laws, and his craft bore the logo of his employer, the United States Postal Service, without authorization, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted him on two felony counts — one count of “operating as an airman without an airman’s certificate” and another count of “violating registration requirements involving aircraft,” according to a release from the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s office, which said an investigation found he has no pilot’s license or registration for the craft.
He also faces four misdemeanor charges: Three counts of “violation of national defense airspace” and one of “operating a vehicle falsely labeled as a postal carrier.” If indicted on all counts, Hughes could face as much as nine and a half years in prison.
Hughes pleaded not guilty to all six counts on Thursday. He is due back in court on May 27. A request for comment from his attorney was not immediately returned Thursday afternoon.
Hughes was released from house arrest in Florida but can only travel throughout his home county. He’s been banned from returning to D.C. except for legal matters surrounding his case, and isn’t allowed near the Capitol or the White House.