A 64-year-old former Federal Aviation Administration employee from Burlington County was sentenced Wednesday to one year and a day in prison for accepting $300 tips from pilots to whom he gave flight tests, a lapse in judgment that struck even the judge as incongruous.
More than 100 times over seven years, Harrington Bishop accepted the tips. The former Air Force pilot, who lives in Pemberton, wasn't supposed to take payments and he wasn't authorized to give the tests or grant licenses on his days off, as he did.
The government did not try to claim that his actions endangered public safety in any way, even though nearly everyone he tested at the Flying W Airport in Medford passed.
"I truly regret my actions, sir," Bishop told Judge Robert Kugler during his sentencing at U.S. District Court in Camden on Wednesday. "I had good intentions of assisting fellow military pilots."
He explained that he administered flight tests to former military pilots who sought credentials to fly commercial passenger and cargo planes. Usually, he did so on Saturdays at the airport, but only after spending Friday evening instructing them on the difference between military and civilian flight rules.
As Edna Bishop, his wife of nearly 41 years, watched in the courtroom, he said he always told his clients that he could not accept payments.
But he said a student told him that he wanted to tip him - not for the test, but for the instruction the night before.
After he accepted, Bishop said, it spread by word-of-mouth that he should be paid $300.
Bishop kept offering the services even after the FAA told him to stop in 2006 and again in 2010.
He said nearly all his clients were military pilots. A few were commercial copilots who wanted to move to the captain's seat.
Scott McBride, a federal prosecutor, said that when a testing service passes more than about 85 percent of its pilots, inspectors usually monitor it to make sure it's not a "mill."
There is no indication that anyone received a license from Bishop who could not have gotten it legitimately, McBride said.
Bishop pleaded guilty in October to receiving an illegal gratuity as a public servant and agreed to pay the federal government $70,000 in restitution.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for 21 to 24 months in prison. But after reading letters in support of Bishop and hearing in court from his wife and pastor, the judge decided to sentence him to a year and a day.
"He's a hardworking man, a military veteran, the kind of guy you go to when you have a problem and need help," Kugler said. "He's very unselfish."