A federal judge today ordered a $19-an-hour Boeing Co. assembly-line worker to undergo psychiatric testing after authorities arrested him and accused him of vandalizing a $30 million Chinook helicopter being built for the Army.
Matthew Kevin Montgomery's appearance in U.S. District Court today came as federal authorities announced they had arrested the Trevose man and accused him of slashing wires on a nearly completed combat helicopter this month.
The discovery of damage to two Chinooks shut down production last week at Boeing's Ridley Township line and prompted the U.S. Defense Department to launch a criminal probe into what caused the irregularities during the final phase of production of the dual-rotor helicopters.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan said Montgomery, a Boeing employee for 18 months, admitted to Defense Criminal Investigative Service agents last night that he was the one who had hacked into a fire-hose-thick bundle of wires on one of two CH-47F copters on the eight-chopper assembly line.
Montgomery, 32, severed the wiring during an overtime shift May 10, authorities said. It was to have been his final day on the Chinook line before being transferred to a V-22 Osprey line. Boeing discovered the damage two days later.
Meehan said the crime was a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. He suggested that Montgomery may have been unhappy at work, but offered little else about motive:
"For whatever reason that was personal to him, the issue of his employment on that line, and some sense of appreciation or lack of appreciation for the job that he thought he was doing, seemed to be something which may have motivated him to act out in the way that he did," Meehan said.
In an affidavit of probable cause outlining the case for Montgomery's arrest, authorities linked the Bucks County man only to the wiring damage on one Chinook.
Damage to a second CH-47F was being investigated as a separate incident, and authorities asked the public and Boeing workforce to assist with tips and information about potential suspects. A $5,000 reward remained in effect.
Company officials have said that no damage was found to the other six Chinooks in production on that line last week and that they did not believe there was a problem with Chinook F-models already sent to the Army. The F-model in question has not yet been deployed overseas.
"We received a lot of cooperation from Boeing . . . management, the union workers, and information from various individuals in the public, and that assisted us in our investigation," said Edward Bradley, special agent in charge of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service team.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry S. Perkins released Montgomery on his own recognizance. Montgomery agreed to move in with his parents in Southampton and submit to psychological evaluation as ordered.
Montgomery answered "Yes, sir" to a series of questions about his financial situation before the judge granted his request for a lawyer. The federal public defender who took the case for the day was Mara Meehan. Assistant U.S. Attorney Pamela Foa has been working the Boeing case with Defense Criminal Investigative Service agents.
During Montgomery's brief exchange with the judge, a few details about his life emerged, including the fact that he is single, employed full time at Boeing, and living in an $850-a-month apartment with $3,200 in credit card debt.
On a Facebook page, he describes himself as an aircraft mechanic who builds Chinooks and graduated from William Tennent High School.
Prosecutor Meehan said the investigation into vandalism of a second Chinook was focusing on suspicions that one or more Boeing employees were involved.
Authorities would not explain why they believed the two incidents were unrelated. When asked by reporters, Meehan was adamant that the second incident, involving a washer, was no accident.
Boeing officials did not return calls for comment.
Joe Hilferty, a committeeman with United Aerospace Workers Local 1069, which represents Boeing workers, said news of the arrest was greeted with "a big, giant sigh of relief. . . . People really thought their livelihood was at stake."
Union president John DeFrancisco said: "If there's another one out there, we're sure as can be that it's only going to be a matter of time before this person is caught."
Montgomery is a union member, DeFrancisco said. He said today that he had not heard of Montgomery's having had any problems with management.
Montgomery reported to work May 12 - two days after allegedly hacking away at the Chinook wiring.
DeFrancisco said he had heard that 20 to 25 people who worked on Chinooks were being transferred to work on the V-22. "They weren't changing anybody's shift," he said. "They weren't taking any money from them. It wasn't any form of discipline."
The workers would be going to a different building across Route 291 and learning a new job. Hilferty said some people had trouble making changes like that. "It's unsettling," he said. "It's like learning a new job."
DeFrancisco and Hilferty said they had heard investigators were questioning employees who were scheduled to work on the damaged machines at certain times. The investigators also confiscated common toolboxes used by workers on the line, they said.