U.S. Attorney's Office
Northern District of Illinois
(312) 353-5300
May 1, 2015

Naperville Man Charged in Setting Fire to Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora

CHICAGO—A Naperville man was charged by information today on federal charges he set fire to the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora on September 26, 2014, federal law enforcement officials announced today. Brian Howard, 37, of Naperville, was charged with one count of willfully setting fire to, damaging, destroying or disabling an air navigation facility; and one count of using fire to commit a federal felony. Howard will be arraigned at a date yet to be determined in U.S. District Court and remains in federal custody since his arrest in September 2014.

The Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center (the “Control Center”) is located in Aurora, Illinois. The Control Center is responsible for safely guiding airplanes at high altitudes across its geographic territory. Given its central location, the Control Center is one of the nation’s largest and most important. It controls the air space over parts of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan; provides air traffic services to the Chicago and Milwaukee metropolitan areas; and handles approximately 3,000,000 aircraft operations per year.

According to court documents, Howard was employed by an FAA contractor. He worked on telecommunications matters at the Control Center and at other FAA facilities for approximately eight years.

On September 26, 2014, at approximately 5:00 a.m., Howard entered the Control Center using his FAA-issued credentials. He was carrying a black Pelican suit case. Approximately 30 minutes after entering the Control Center, Howard posted a Facebook message that stated, in part, “Take a hard look in the mirror, I have. And this is why I am about to take out [the Control Center] and my life. April, Pop, love you guys and I am sorry. Leaving you with a big mess.”

Several minutes later, an individual who worked at the Control Center contacted 911 and notified emergency personnel that the Control Center was on fire. First responders arrived on the scene to heavy smoke. They observed that a floor panel had been lifted exposing the Control Center’s telecommunications cables, some of which had been severed and set on fire. First responders also saw a gas can next to the floor panel that had been pulled away, the nozzle to the gas can, a towel that appeared to have been burned, and a black Pelican suit case.

Howard is charged with intentionally damaging and disabling the telecommunication infrastructure at the Control Center, and setting fire to the area which housed these key components.

The charges were announced by Zachary T. Fardon, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and Robert J. Holley, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew K. Polovin.

The charge alleged in the information of willfully setting fire to, damaging, destroying or disabling an air navigation facility, or willfully interfering by force or violence with the operation of that facility, likely endangering the safety of aircraft in flight, carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross loss caused by Defendant’s actions.

The charge alleged in the information of using fire to commit a federal felony carries a mandatory penalty of 10 years in prison, which must be in addition to any sentence imposed for the underlying felony.

If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal sentencing statutes and the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.

The public is reminded that an information contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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