Man Charged in Chicago-Area FAA Fire Seeks Plea Deal

Brian Howard, 37, pleaded not guilty Thursday to federal charges that could put him behind bars for up to 30 years

The man accused of sabotaging a Federal Aviation Administration facility in Aurora last fall pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges he damaged the center by fire but is expected to change that plea once his attorney works out a deal with the government.

Brian Howard, 37, said nothing in court but acknowledged his mother, one of half a dozen family members who attended the brief arraignment, when she blew a kiss to him.

After the appearance before Federal Judge Michael Mason, Howard's sister, April Connor, told reporters that, "Brian is a wonderful, caring son, uncle to my kids and godfather to my son. ... He would never hurt anyone."

The September fire at the Federal Aviation Administration Air Route Traffic Control Center forced the shutdown of O'Hare and Midway international airports and led to the cancellation of thousands of flights. Howard was a contract employee working at the facility, and authorities allege he cut cables and set fire to a basement telecommunications room.

The Naperville man's defense attorney, Ron Safer, said the government dropped the threat of a terror charge against his client. Now he wants prosecutors to make sure Howard gets the mental health care his family said he needs. 

Connor said she isn't making any excuses for his brother, and neither is he.

"The damages that were done and the anxiety he caused, we are all very sorry for and he very much regrets it," she said.

The two statutes under which Howard was charged could put him behind bars for three decades. 

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