- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) - Sentencing has been postponed a day for a former executive who pleaded guilty to falsifying performance records for a helicopter that crashed in 2008, killing seven firefighters and two pilots battling a forest fire in Northern California.

After some four hours of statements from families of the dead expressing their pain and anger and another four hours of attorneys’ arguments, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken told Carson Helicopters executive Steven Metheny late Monday she needed more time to consider his sentence.

A key issue is the amount of money involved in the fraud.

Prosecutor Byron Chatfield argued Metheny should go to prison for more than 15 years, largely because the contract won by his fraudulent bid had the potential to be worth more than $50 million.

Defense lawyer Steven Myers countered a higher level of proof is required than the prosecution provided when a sentencing enhancement greatly increases the length of sentence. The money increased the guidelines from four to 10 months, to 188 months.

Myers added the sentence sought by the prosecution amounted to what someone might get for manslaughter, noting that there was no evidence that Metheny had personally profited from the fraud, only the company he worked for, and that there was nothing in the plea agreement over the guilty pleas blaming Metheny for the deaths of the people on the helicopter.

Myers urged the judge to sentence Metheny to three years probation, including house arrest.

Though not taking responsibility for the deaths, Metheny turned to the families and said he could not begin to understand their pain. He added that in the same crash, he lost his best friend, the pilot.

“I can’t even erase his number from my cell phone,” he said.

“What I did was wrong, it was shortsighted, and I am ashamed for my actions,” he said. “As a pilot, I would never jeopardize an aircraft or the lives of anyone on board.”

The firefighters were part of a contract crew from Grayback Forestry in Merlin, Oregon.

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