A Kenai air charter owner who lost his aviation licenses last month says the government came after him because he's the son of the imprisoned leader of the Montana Freemen, who held U.S. marshals at bay for 81 days in 1996.
Craig Schweitzer, son of Freemen leader Leroy Schweitzer, has had legal disputes with neighbors since bringing Mavrik Aire to Alaska the same year as the Montana standoff but says he has tried to follow the rules.
He now says maybe his dad was right to buck the system.
"As much as people love America -- and I feel for it too -- I think our government has betrayed us," Schweitzer said. "There are men who fought and died for the freedoms we're supposed to have in this country."
On Thursday an administrative law judge rejected Schweitzer's appeal of the license revocation, upholding the Federal Aviation Administration decision.
The Freemen, a self-described "Christian Patriot" group that rejected federal authority, set up its own common-law court and placed liens on public officials' property. When authorities arrested the elder Schweitzer, his followers refused to leave their ranch compound during a long standoff. Ultimately they surrendered, and Schweitzer was sentenced to 22 years on charges including conspiracy, bank fraud, false claims to the IRS and threats against public officials.
Craig Schweitzer said FAA inspectors have long sought reasons to shut him down because of his family ties. He said they got him on a technicality - that he didn't disclose on a medical certificate application that he'd received a citation for refusing to take a breath test after he was pulled over on suspicion of drunken driving. He said he had disclosed that previously.
The now-retired FAA inspector who last winter built the case against Schweitzer called his accusation "malarkey" and said he investigated because of numerous rule violations, and not because of Schweitzer's name.
"Craig wants to operate according to his rules," said Spencer Hill, an inspector who retired in March. The violations in the revocation order included an allegation that Schweitzer wrote an inflated weight limit on the maintenance record for one of his company planes, causing the pilot to overload it.
FAA agents asked state troopers to accompany them to Schweitzer's home July 24 to serve him with an emergency revocation of his licenses. A trooper spokeswoman said the agents wanted backup because of fears for their own safety. Previously Schweitzer was fined $500 for assault when he allegedly threatened to get a gun and shoot a woman serving him with unrelated legal papers. On Friday he characterized that incident as a warning that he would arrest her if she did not leave his property.
The decision by the administrative law judge to uphold the license revocations means Schweitzer can't fly planes or operate a standard federal-regulation air charter, though an exemption to charter regulations in Alaska law allows Mavrik Aire to continue flying hunters to camps or lodges so long as Schweitzer is not at the controls.
Schweitzer said Friday that Americans are foolish to think their government is on their side. He said Mavrik is busy ferrying hunters and bear viewers now, but will be crippled in winter, when it relies on the charter license to fly freight around Alaska. He said flying is all he has known since he grew up learning from his father, a Montana crop duster who first tangled with officials over taxes on equipment.
"The government can come in and squash out the little guy - the same government that my dad was fighting for 20 years," Schweitzer said.
Schweitzer first flew in Alaska for another charter service in 1993, he said.
"Way back when my dad was fighting this battle, I said you should play by the rules. I did that for 15 years and all the sudden they said you can no longer work here."
"That's the court system that you guys have in this country," he said.
Hill, the retired FAA inspector, said Schweitzer ignored important safety rules that were developed and "written in blood" when other pilots died.
"You start overloading an aircraft and then it becomes an unstable machine," Hill said. "This has caused a lot of wrecks."
Likewise, he said, the FAA takes potential drinking problems seriously.
Other problems that Hill said he identified were Schweitzer's flying despite his lack of certification, and his failure to schedule flight checks or training for his pilots. "I tried to work with Craig to keep him out of trouble, but every time I turned around there was another problem," he said.
Schweitzer also has problems with his neighbors at a North Kenai air park subdivision. He runs his business from there, and neighbors say he sued the homeowner's association in an attempt to unduly control airplane access to a floatplane basin and restrict them as potential charter competitors.
Schweitzer responded Friday that his property came with an easement allowing his planes use of the area and he's just trying to maintain that right.
Neighbor Bill Woodin, who operates an air taxi service in King Salmon, said he believes Schweitzer uses the specter of costly legal battles to control others or their properties.
"What Craig Schweitzer has done is he tries to bully and intimidate people and rides his father's coattails, and says, 'If you don't follow my way of thinking I'm going to sue you.' "
Regarding the FAA action, Woodin said he and other charter operators who follow the rules thought it long overdue.
The air park case is scheduled for a Kenai trial in October.
Find Brandon Loomis online at adn.com/contact/bloomis.
LEROY SCHWEITZER: The father of the Alaska aviator is serving a 22-year sentence.
Leroy Schweitzer and the Montana Freemen
Craig Schweitzer's father is Leroy Schweitzer, right, a former leader in a militia group called the Montana Freemen, which claimed its members were not subject to U.S. courts.
Leroy Schweitzer is serving a 22-year prison sentence for convictions including conspiracy, bank fraud, filing a false federal tax claim and threatening to kidnap and kill a federal judge. His arrest in March 1996 triggered an 81-day standoff at a ranch near Jordan, Mont., between other members of the group and the FBI.