A federal appeals court has denied an appeal filed by an elderly man convicted of attempting to fly four people who were in the country illegally from Weslaco to Houston.
Louis Luyten, who was 81 at the time of his arrest, was sentenced to 33 months in the Bureau of Prisons on June 20, 2019, after he reached a plea deal with the government and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport undocumented immigrants into the United States.
Federal authorities arrested Luyten on Nov. 4, 2018, as he was attempting to take off.
“Luyten was apprehended on November 4, 2018, at the Mid-Valley Airport in Weslaco, Texas, as he was attempting to take-off in a 1978 Mooney M20K aircraft transporting four additional undocumented aliens from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador,” the ruling states.
In his plea deal, Luyten admitted that he was going to earn $3,000 for the act. The Fifth Circuit of Appeals ruling also reveals Luyten had successfully done this on three other occasions on Aug. 20, 23, and 25, 2018, transporting a total of 11 people in the country illegally.
After he was sentenced, Luyten appealed, arguing the district court erroneously enhanced his offense “for recklessly creating a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.”
Authorities determined he created a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury for transporting five people, including himself, in an aircraft with four seats while his pilot’s license was revoked.
“The (pre-sentence report) identified three separate trips, including the November 2018 incident, where Luyten piloted an aircraft that carried passengers in excess of the authorized seating capacity of four,” the ruling states.
Luyten’s pilot’s license was revoked in 2007 after he was convicted of attempting to smuggle marijuana in a plane.
The former pilot, however, argued at the time of his sentencing that he had not taken off and had special skills as a pilot so there’s no way he could have ever put anyone at risk of serious bodily injury or death.
“At sentencing, Luyten reurged his objection, emphasizing that he had served honorably as a colonel in the NATO Air Force, had taught at various schools as a flight instructor, and was a competent and skilled pilot,” the ruling states. “Thus, he asserted there was no risk of death or serious bodily injury.”
The judge determined otherwise.
Luyten is scheduled for release on March 22, 2021.