PITTSBURGH (AP) — A former American Airlines operations manager who learned of the first Sept. 11, 2001, hijacking before the jet struck the World Trade Center has pleaded guilty to a federal interstate child-sex charge in Pittsburgh.
Ray Howland, 55, of Arlington, Texas, entered the plea before Senior U.S. District Judge Gustave Diamond on Wednesday. Diamond scheduled sentencing for Oct. 19.
Howland was arrested near Pittsburgh International Airport last June by an undercover state attorney general’s agent who posed online as a woman with a 10-year-old daughter. Howland used an iPad and cellphone to send explicit messages after posting an ad online that he was “looking for a family or a couple of girls” for sex while in town on business, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Lieber Smolar told the judge.
The plea deal includes an agreed-upon 10-year prison sentence. That’s the mandatory minimum sentence for the charge of attempted coercion and enticement of a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity, which carries up to life in prison. Diamond must still approve the deal at sentencing.
“A lot of times in these cases you see double that amount,” defense attorney Frank Walker II said of the 10-year sentence. “It’s hard to say someone can be satisfied, but they will be accepting of a 10-year sentence. When they’re facing 19, 20 years, it seems like a reasonable resolution.”
Walker said Howland has undergone counseling and is “looking forward to paying his debt to society and putting this behind him.”
Howland’s wife and children were in the courtroom but didn’t comment. Howland didn’t speak beyond answering the judge’s questions about whether he understood his rights and what he was doing.
Howland received some of the first panicked calls from employees at Boston’s Logan Airport in reporting the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11 on Sept. 11, 2001. The plane was the first of two that crashed into New York’s World Trade Center towers.
Howland was a supervisor at American’s system operations control center. Transcripts show he told other American employees not to disclose the hijacking minutes before the Boeing 767 hit the World Trade Center.
“We don’t want this getting out,” Howland said, according to the transcripts. “We’re aware of the situation. We’re dealing with it right now. So let us deal with it.”
Fort Worth-based American Airlines has said Howland is no longer an employee. Smolar told the judge that Howland had been making monthly business trips to Pittsburgh facilitating American’s merger with US Airways when he was arrested.
Howland had been free but was handcuffed and led away by deputy U.S. marshals after pleading guilty.
State authorities had filed other charges against Howland, including attempted child rape, but they were withdrawn after federal authorities took over the case.