Elderly pilot gets 3 years in prison for trying to fly in migrants

McALLEN — An elderly man who attempted to smuggle undocumented migrants in his personal plane was sentenced last week to nearly three years in prison, court records show.

U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez sentenced Louis Alphonse Luyten, 81, to a 33-month prison sentence and an additional three years of supervised release upon completion of his prison term.

Luyten, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Belgium, was accused of attempting to fly out of a Weslaco airport with multiple undocumented migrants in his aircraft.

Agents with U.S. Homeland Security Investigations detained Luyten moments before he was set to depart in a private plane from the Mid-Valley Airport, according to the complaint.

“… Agents observed a private aircraft taxiing for departure at the Mid-Valley Airport, Weslaco, Texas. The aircraft was observed being piloted by an individual matching the description of (Luyten), who was previously identified as having a revoked pilot’s license,” the complaint read. “HSI McAllen questioned the four passengers traveling on the aircraft and determined they were all undocumented aliens with no legal right to be or remain in the United States.”

When agents searched Luyten’s plane, they found four Central American men — two from Guatemala, one from El Salvador, and one from Honduras — who did not have proof of legal status to be in the country, as well as an envelope containing $3,000 in cash.

Luyten served as a former NATO pilot and is described as a master instructor who speaks several languages fluently, including Dutch, French, German and Spanish. He operated the Antwerp Aviation flight school in South Glastonbury, Connecticut, according to previously published news reports.

In February, the man hailing from New Jersey who made his living in part as a pilot, stood before Alvarez and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to transport aliens.

In exchange for pleading true to the charge, government prosecutors agreed to dismiss the remaining four additional counts of bringing and harboring aliens, at the time of his sentencing.

Luyten, who was born in Belgium, where according to prior reports he served in that country’s air defense for roughly 20 years, was still serving a federal supervised release term related to a 2009 federal drug conviction, when he was arrested as part of an investigation into international drug smuggling, court records show.

That conviction, which resulted in a 96-month prison sentence, with an additional four years of supervised release, was in connection with an investigation into his role in the transport of several kilos of cocaine between May 2008 and March 2009.

The court recommended Luyten be placed in a facility where he can tend to his medical needs, the notes state.