Plane thief faces five years in jail

BUFORD - A Buford man accused of stealing a charter jet in Florida and flying homeward will likely serve five years in prison for the 2005 joy ride, an official said Friday.

Daniel Andrew Wolcott pleaded guilty Thursday in a Jacksonville federal court to interstate transportation of a stolen aircraft, a felony, according to a court representative. A sentencing hearing is pending.

The crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, but a plea agreement Wolcott has entered will likely lessen those penalties, said Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter.

A restitution hearing to determine how much Wolcott must pay back should be held within two months, Porter said.

"(Wolcott will) be sentenced to serve right at five years in federal prison," said Porter. "The advantage is, in the federal system there's no chance for parole."

Wolcott was transported from the Gwinnett County Jail by federal marshals about two weeks ago, Porter said. He could receive credit for the nearly two years he was jailed in Gwinnett.

On Oct. 9, 2005, Wolcott, then 22, stole a Cessna Citation 7 jet worth $7 million from the St. Augustine/St. Johns County Airport in Florida.

Utilizing his commercial pilot's license, Wolcott then flew to Gwinnett County Airport-Briscoe Field and took five friends on a brief spin, police said. The five men were not aware the plane was stolen and were cleared of all wrongdoing.

The 10-passenger jet belonged to Pinnacle Air, a charter jet company based in Springdale, Ark. Its mysterious presence at Briscoe Field triggered terrorism concerns until Wolcott turned himself in the following week.

In addition to federal charges, Wolcott faced one count of theft by receiving and five counts of reckless conduct in Gwinnett, as well as a grand theft charge by authorities in St. Johns County, Fla.

As part of the plea agreement, Porter said those charges against Wolcott will be dropped.

"I think it's a reasonable disposition of the charges," Porter said. "Had he gone to trial here, I would have expected a sentence along those lines."

The theft was not Wolcott's first run-in with local police.

Records indicate he had been arrested in Gwinnett County on five occasions dating back to 2001. His charges included theft, property damage, disorderly conduct, loitering, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, possession of tools for the commission of a crime and criminal trespass.