Con At The Controls!

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When the occupants of Sen. Paul Wellstone's charter aircraft were bouncing through the muck of a late fall storm last week, it's hard to imagine a 12-year-old fraud conviction against their pilot would have made much difference to them or in any way impaired that pilot's abilities. But in the absence of anything new in the investigation of the crash, the focus has shifted to the relatively ancient history of pilot Richard Conry's apparently shady dealings in the house-construction business. The Minneapolis / St. Paul Star Tribune last week got its collective hands on Conry's criminal record and discovered he went to a "federal prison camp" for more than a year beginning in 1990 for 14 counts of mail fraud. The scheme resulted in some subcontractors not getting paid for their work on houses Conry built. Conry did his time and was repaying the people he had defrauded. In April of 2001, at Executive Aviation -- where he was presumably hired based on his ability to fly an airplane -- he truthfully answered the question on their application inquiring whether he had had a criminal conviction in the previous five years. However, Rep. James Oberstar, outspoken on aviation safety issues, questioned that ability, based on Conry's history. "It goes to the question of his fitness to fly." And even though Conry filled out the employment application truthfully, Oberstar suggested he should have volunteered the information about the conviction. "It's more than an act of omission, it's a deliberate act of deception," he said. The whole affair may remind some of the Canadian pilot who deadsticked an A330 to a landing in the Azores last year. In that instance, the skill Captain Piche employed to guide the silent jet for roughly 15 minutes over the open ocean and to a safe landing, saving the lives of all on board, was apparently not impaired by his own previous drug bust. Still, the story quickly shifted to Piche's previous drug-related conviction. In the public's perception, and Oberstar's, it would appear that only angels should have wings -- even though as elected officials have perhaps demonstrated, angelic character is a rare quality.