PITTSBURGH (AP) — A former American Airlines operations manager who learned of the first Sept. 11 hijacking before the jet struck the World Trade Center has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for trying to have sex with a child during a business trip to Pittsburgh last year.
Ray Howland, 57, of Arlington, Texas, pleaded guilty in June. His attorney, Frank Walker II, and prosecutors agreed in advance to the sentence imposed Wednesday by a federal judge in Pittsburgh.
Howland’s crime carries a penalty of 10 years to life in prison for a first offense. Federal prosecutors had been prepared to seek an 18- or 19-year sentence before the plea bargain was struck, so Howland was “fortunate” to receive just 10 years, Walker said.
Howland had no criminal record and Walker said he and prosecutors were unable to uncover any evidence of child-sex or pornographic activity before Howland’s arrest.
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“For all intents and purposes, he was an outstanding father, an outstanding employee for years, and here we are,” Walker said after the sentencing.
Howland was arrested near Pittsburgh International Airport in June 2015 by an undercover state attorney general’s agent who posed online as a woman with a 10-year-old daughter. Howland used an iPad and cellphone — which he’s forfeiting as part of his sentence — to send explicit messages after posting an ad online that he was “looking for a family or a couple of girls” for sex while in town on business.
Howland’s wife and children were in the courtroom but didn’t comment or testify, though Howland, clad in an orange prison jumpsuit and athletic shoes, briefly whispered to them before sentencing.
Howland apologized to his family, friends and the court and told Judge Gustave Diamond he is looking forward to putting the incident behind him.
Walker said Howland has undergone counseling since his arrest, and the judge ordered him to participate in a program for sex offenders. Howland will spend 10 years on probation after prison and cannot have unsupervised contact with minor children during that time. His online internet and cellphone use also will be monitored to prevent him from accessing child pornography while on probation.
Howland received some of the first panicked calls from employees at Boston’s Logan Airport reporting the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11 on Sept. 11, 2001. The plane was the first of two that crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City.
Howland was a supervisor at American’s system operations control center. Transcripts show he told other American employees not to disclose the hijacking minutes before the Boeing 767 hit the World Trade Center.
“We don’t want this getting out,” Howland said, according to the transcripts. “We’re aware of the situation. We’re dealing with it right now. So let us deal with it.”