A California district court caught the attention of an industry group in Washington after it sentenced a repair station accountable manager to 30 months in federal prison for “directing and causing” the falsification of FAA 8130-3 airworthiness approval tags. A jury convicted William Hugh Weygandt—owner, president and accountable manager of a family-run repair station—of conspiracy to commit fraud after finding that personnel did not perform the work as described on the return-to-service documentation. In his appeal, Weygandt maintains that he was unaware of the misrepresentation, there was no evidence presented at trial refuting that claim, and the district court erred when it refused to instruct the jury that the accountable manager designation does not provide the basis for criminal liability.
The Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA), concerned with potential precedent for imposing criminal liability simply by virtue of the accountable manager designation, filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in support of the defendant’s request for a rehearing. ARSA’s position is that the government never intended to saddle a single person—the accountable manager—with personal liability for a company’s or individual’s noncompliance. Rather, the purpose of the delegation was to ensure a person with corporate authority is responsible for correcting identified deficiencies.
ARSA supported its position with a recitation of the historical record. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) introduced the concept of the accountable manager, which the FAA adopted in its 1999 revision to Part 145. The agency made clear in the final rule that “it was not the intent of the FAA to impose personal liability for repair station operations on the accountable manager.” ARSA also points out that the absence of any accountable manager qualification requirements creates de facto dependence on the knowledge, skill and experience of technical personnel to ensure regulatory compliance. It is therefore unfair to impose personal liability on an individual who may not have the technical expertise needed to ascertain whether work was properly performed.
ARSA concludes that the “repeated emphasis [at trial] on [Weygandt’s] responsibility as [accountable manager] . . . enabled the prosecution to argue—and invited the jury to find—that regulatory responsibility is somehow tantamount to criminal culpability, which is simply not the case.” The trade association hopes that the appeals court will ultimately find that a limiting jury instruction—informing jurors that the accountable manager designation does not impart criminal liability for the conduct of repair station employees—should have been provided.
The prosecution has until Sept. 5 to respond to Weygandt’s request for rehearing; the court decision is expected shortly thereafter.