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Movie producer jailed for promotional airplane stunt

David G. Riggs had buzzed Santa Monica Pier and beach in a Cold War-era military jet to promote a film in 2008.

November 17, 2011|By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times

A movie producer who made low-level passes over the Santa Monica Pier in a Cold War-era military jet went to jail Wednesday for flying an aircraft in a manner that endangered lives and property.

Having lost his appeal, David G. Riggs, 48, surrendered to authorities at Los Angeles County Superior Court and began serving a 60-day sentence imposed by Judge Harold I. Cherness in June 2010.

Cherness further ordered Riggs to clean beaches for 60 days and pay more than $6,000 in penalties and court fees. In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration revoked his pilot's license for a year.

"Justice was done," said Santa Monica Deputy City Atty. Melanie Skehar, one of the prosecutors in the case. "The appellate decision went in our favor, and the defense is not going to go any further. It's a good result."

Skehar said, however, that because of overcrowding in the Los Angeles County jails, there was a possibility that Riggs would be incarcerated for only a short time.

Riggs was convicted of violating a rarely used provision of the California Public Utilities Code that is designed to protect the public from careless and reckless pilots. The charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Jurors found that Riggs endangered the public by buzzing the Santa Monica Pier on Nov. 6, 2008, to promote a movie his company was making about a maverick squadron of Americans and Russians on a secret mission to Iran.

During the stunt, Riggs flew a 1973 Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros, a Czechoslovakian jet trainer that was popular in the Soviet bloc during the Cold War. Witnesses said he raced over the beach at altitudes as low as 50 feet and pulled up abruptly when he reached the pier, which was filled with people.

Riggs, who is now in bankruptcy proceedings in Los Angeles, has a criminal history, including federal convictions on wire and bank fraud charges for which he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Investors in his film ventures also are pursuing civil cases against him.

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