LODI, Calif. (KTXL) – A federal grand jury has indicted a Skydive Lodi Parachute Center instructor on six counts of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft.
During his arraignment Tuesday, 46-year-old Robert Allen Pooley entered a not guilty plea.
He will be released from custody late Tuesday night.
“You do have someone who is not sanctioned to teach these classes, in a very dangerous hazardous endeavor, who is taking money for this at a high level and, at the end of the day when several people have perished, you realized the instructor wasn’t even certified,” explained Sacramento attorney Mark Reichel.
Reichel said this type of federal case against a skydiving business is extremely rare.
“I have never heard of the federal government targeting a parachute center,” Reichel said. “Occasionally, you’ll get individuals who were intoxicated or were not certified who led a parachute expedition, and they’ll charge them in other states or in state court with involuntary or voluntary manslaughter and bring criminal charges. But rarely do you see, I mean, ever the federal government come in and say it was fraud in a manner which you gave them the instruction.”
FOX40 has learned Pooley trained 25-year-old Yong Kwon, who was killed along with 18-year-old Tyler Turner when their parachute did not deploy over Lodi in 2016.
Turner’s family recently won a $40 million lawsuit against Skydivers Guild Inc. and its owner, Bill Dause.
Reichel believes discoveries made during that case are probably what led to these criminal charges being filed against Pooley.
“It could be that, as a result, somebody connected to that said, ‘Well this came out during this case, we learned this information. Let’s give it to the FBI,’” Reichel told FOX40.
According to court documents, Pooley’s ratings as a “tandem examiner” by the U.S. Parachute Association and Uninsured United Parachute Technologies LLC were suspended in August 2015.
However, he is alleged to have continued conducting tandem instructor courses on his own, along with hiding his suspensions from potential candidates.
Pooley is also alleged to have used “a digital image of the signature” of another instructor to sign off on training that Pooley conducted.
Pooley took in students from around the world, with each student typically paying $1,000 to $1,600 in total. After the deaths of Kwon and Turner in 2016, many of Pooley’s victims asked for their money to be returned, but he refused to pay them.
Reichel says Skydive Lodi Parachute Center and its owner Dause can likely remain in business, at least for now.
“No one is seeking an injunction that I’m aware of. And the Feds really have just charged him and haven’t sought an injunction or any type of shutdown,” Reichel said. “I think the business itself can hire someone who is certified and continue on and operate.”
Dause told FOX40 he plans to hold a press conference Wednesday at 10 a.m. to discuss the charges filed against his employee.