NEWARK, N.J. - A man accused of pointing a laser at an airplane, temporarily blinding the pilot and co-pilot, was indicted Wednesday under an anti-terror law.
David W. Banach also was accused of lying to the FBI about the Dec. 29 incident, in which a small passenger jet's windshield and cabin were hit three times by a green laser as the plane readied to land at Teterboro Airport.
The charges in the three-count federal indictment were similar to those filed against Banach in a complaint by the FBI in January. The indictment, handed up by a grand jury in Newark, replaces the FBI complaint.
Banach's lawyer, Gina Mendola-Longarzo, said her client was using the laser to look at stars with his daughter when the plane was hit by the beam.
"I think it's an absolute abuse of prosecutorial discretion to charge my client under the Patriot Act for non-purposeful conduct," Mendola-Longarzo said.
"We take the alleged actions of Mr. Banach very seriously, and we will not condone lying to federal agents," U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie said in a statement.
A cluster of reports of lasers striking airplanes received wide attention between Christmas and New Year's Day, and prompted Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to make changes in how pilots report lasers being beamed at airplanes. He also warned that federal officials will aggressively prosecute those caught shining the bright beams into cockpits.
Banach, 38, of Parsippany, remains free on bond pending arraignment, which has not yet been scheduled, his lawyer said.
He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on one count of interference with pilots of an aircraft "with reckless disregard for the safety of human life," a provision of the USA Patriot Act passed following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He also was charged with two counts of making false statements to law officers, each of which carries up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Prosecutors said Banach, after repeatedly lying to authorities about the incident, finally admitted Jan. 1 that he pointed the laser at the plane.