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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Man told to surrender old Navy war plane to U.S. government

The U.S. attorney's office in Birming­ham is seeking forfeiture of a vintage mili­tary aircraft purchased by a Shelby County man.

By Anita Debro -- The Birmingham News

U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance said Thurs­day that her office has filed a civil com­plaint seeking forfeiture of a former Navy aircraft, its wing cannons and other air­craft parts. The complaint alleges the air­plane and those parts were brought into the country illegally.

In May 2009, U.S. Immigration and Cus­toms Enforcement agents seized the plane, a Douglas AD-4N Skyraider, from Claude Hendrickson, owner of Dixie Equipment. Since the seizure, the airplane has been stored in a hangar at Bessemer Municipal Airport.

Hendrickson, an avid vintage airplane collector, purchased the plane from a private collector in France.

Efforts to reach Hendrickson or his attorney for comment on Thursday were unsuccessful.

In an interview Hendrickson gave to The Birmingham News in December 2009, he said he hired a pilot to fly the aircraft, which he valued at $100,000, from France to the United States in August 2008. He then stored the plane in a hangar he leases at Bessemer Municipal Airport.

The complaint claims the airplane was flown into the country without first obtaining the required authorization from the U.S. Department of State or the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The complaint also alleges the pilot provided false information to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers in Buffalo, N.Y. to enter the country. The pilot told authorities the plane was owned by a French citizen, was coming to the United States for air shows and would only be in the country for six to eight months, but Hendrickson bought the plane from that French citizen before its arrival, the complaint says.

The airplane's cannons arrived in Savannah, Georgia, on Oct. 8, 2008, concealed inside two 40-foot shipping containers imported by Dixie Equipment, according to the complaint. The contents of the containers were not listed, the complaint states. Customs officers in October 2008 seized the cannons and other aircraft parts.

Hendrickson said in December 2009 that he was unaware he had to register the plane with the ATF since he had removed the aircraft's artillery while it was still in France.

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