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Florida man faces new charges of avionics theft

A convicted avionics thief sent to federal prison more than a decade ago faces fresh charges from federal prosecutors, after police allegedly caught him in the act of stealing equipment from aircraft at an Idaho airport.

The suspect, Mario Mercier Hernandez of New Port Richey, Florida, was indicted June 5 by a federal grand jury on five counts of interstate transport of stolen property. According to prosecutors, he operated aviation services businesses, and is alleged to have stolen avionics from aircraft parked at airports across the country, and sold the stolen equipment online to unsuspecting customers.

The federal grand jury in the Middle District of Florida indicted Hernandez on five counts of interstate transport of stolen property after his arrest in Caldwell, Idaho, while allegedly stealing equipment from aircraft at Caldwell Executive Airport, the U.S. Attorney’s report said. According to an affidavit filed by the FBI, the defendant was observed by police entering an aircraft, then returning to his vehicle after several minutes.

"Following the footprints, officers located a stack of aviation navigation or communication equipment. The location of the equipment was in the same path that MERCIER had walked from the aircraft that he entered," the FBI affidavit states. "There had been rain on and off throughout the day, and the ground was muddy. Further, fresh footprints were observed around the equipment. The equipment, however, was clean, with no dust, mud, or rain on the equipment—suggesting it had recently been placed on the ground."

The affidavit also states that the defendant Hernandez (previously Mercier) is the same person who was convicted in 2008 for similar crimes, and that the same individual was also convicted of transportation of stolen property in a Texas federal court in 1993.

In the 2008 case, Hernandez was ordered to pay $164,965 in restitution to the aircraft owners he stole from, according to court records.

If convicted, Hernandez could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison for each count. The U.S. Attorney also is seeking forfeiture of proceeds gained from the alleged crimes.

In 2008 Hernandez, then known as Mario Mercier, was convicted of charges including the sale, receipt, and interstate transport of stolen property. In that case he was sentenced to eight years in federal prison followed by three years of supervised release.

Prosecutors now allege that Hernandez, who was released in 2014, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, resumed burglarizing aircraft in 2019, breaking into airplanes parked at more than two dozen airports across the United States, including fields in Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, Maryland, and New Jersey. After removing avionics from the aircraft, Hernandez is alleged to have transported the gear to the Middle District of Florida for resale.

Local, state, and federal authorities, as well as pilots, reported burglaries at airports in various states in 2014 and 2022, which were part of a general run of such crimes noted mostly along the Eastern Seaboard.

Hernandez owned and operated JWG Aviation and JWG International, aviation services companies that supposedly used proceeds of their business to provide aid to children in need living in Russia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, according to the U.S. Attorney’s report. The companies’ initials stand for “Journey With Grace,” and Hernandez is alleged to have used them to sell the stolen avionics on the used parts market.

This recent influx of aircraft break-ins is a stark reminder to all pilots to be vigilant about activities on the airport that may appear suspicious and report any such activity to local police, airport operations, and AOPA’s Airport Watch hotline: 1-866-GA-SECURE (1-866-427-3287).

Jonathan Welsh
Jonathan Welsh
Digital Media Content Producer
Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot, career journalist and lifelong aviation enthusiast who previously worked as a writer and editor with Flying Magazine and the Wall Street Journal.
Topics: Security, Airport

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