Colton Harris-Moore asked the public for $125,000 to pay for his flight training. The folk-celebrity fugitive, on the lam for more than two years, stole and crashed three planes before being arrested in the Bahamas.
The idea was shot down, at least for now, before it could really take flight.
“Barefoot Bandit” Colton Harris-Moore, who eluded police for two years while committing a string of break-ins and thefts, started a GoFundMe page to raise more than $125,000 for private and commercial pilot-license training and helicopter certification.
As a folk-celebrity fugitive, Harris-Moore stole and crashed three planes during his well-documented exploits.
“Now I am 25 years old, free, and ready to do it (fly) LEGALLY!,” he wrote on his GoFundMe page. “I love airplanes, but I will never steal one or break the law again. I broke the law big league when I was younger, but now it’s time to focus on my career and life in the free world.”
But the effort hardly got off the ground before the federal probation office told Harris-Moore to stop fundraising.
Harris-Moore still owes victims of his crimes about $129,000 in restitution.
“He is not allowed to have a GoFundMe account to fund his wish to go to flying school when the victims aren’t whole,” said Connie Smith, chief U.S. probation and pretrial officer for Western Washington. “The money in that GoFundMe account will need to go to victims.”
Harris-Moore said he had made about $1,600 before he shut down the fundraiser, and announced in a tweet that his “dream has been crushed.”
Most of his court-ordered restitution has been paid. In exchange for rights to his story, a Hollywood movie studio coughed up more than $1 million in restitution for Harris-Moore. The money mostly paid for the planes he wrecked.
Both John Miller and Scott Lancaster were victims of Harris-Moore’s crimes.
Harris-Moore burglarized Lancaster’s Ace Hardware store on Orcas Island.
“There’s just so much of the innocence here he took away. Nickels on the dollar won’t replace that,” Lancaster said in an interview before the fundraiser was ended. “It does not make me happy he’s trying to scam another $125,000 out of everybody to get flight school. He ought to work.”
Miller, along with his brother, owned the Cessna Harris-Moore crashed in the Bahamas. Miller has since struck up a friendship with the young man, visiting him in jail and talking on the phone about 12 times since Harris-Moore was released from prison this summer.
“You know his story, you know about his upbringing. He’s had a bad hand dealt to him … He made a mistake, he served his time and he deserves a second chance,” Miller said. “It’s just an airplane — what the hell, they make ’em all the time.”
When Miller visited Harris-Moore in prison, the two talked about flying, he said.
“He’s a smart kid — very impressive. I think he’ll make a good pilot … He knows more about it than I do,” Miller said. “Heck, he’s already done a solo flight,” noting that is a requirement toward a pilot’s license.
Miller said he was willing to donate to help pay for Harris-Moore’s flight school.
Since leaving prison, Harris-Moore has been working part-time for his high-profile Seattle attorney, John Henry Browne.
Browne said Harris-Moore did not consult him about posting to GoFundMe.
“I have nothing to do with it, and would you put that in caps, please,” Browne said Tuesday.
Harris-Moore said his office job with Browne’s firm is meant to be temporary and leaves him with very little to save for flight school or for repaying victims.
“GoFundMe is really my only realistic option,” Harris-Moore said. “It’s ironic. If I earned these (pilot) licenses and certifications or endorsements and ratings, it would qualify me to work for a charter company.
“I would have an outstanding job … that would enable me to pay my restitution decades before I otherwise would be,” Harris-Moore said.
But Smith said flight school is out of the question until Harris-Moore fulfills his legal obligation of restitution.
“I know he has this belief that if he pursues this education he can earn more money … We can discuss that, and discuss where that might go, but not until the victims are paid in full,” she said.
Harris-Moore said he planned to challenge the probation office in court.
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“It’s either this or you sit around for a couple decades as I make pennies toward these payments,” he said. “This isn’t a whimsical thing I want to do on the weekend for personal pleasure. This is my career.”
Harris-Moore said the deal with 20th Century Fox to sell his story shows that he is serious about restitution.
“It’s selling my soul to the devil. I never wanted the movie. I currently don’t want the movie,” he said. “I don’t get anything out of that deal. There’s the possibility 20th Century Fox is going to take my life and turn it more into a myth than it already is.”
He said he has always had a fascination with airplanes.
“When I look at an airplane, I can literally feel the endorphins firing in my brain,” he said. “This is 100 percent a career focus.”
Luke Lysen, who owns The Flight Academy, a pilot instruction company, said he spoke with Harris-Moore about his plans recently and believes he is genuine.
“He was educated enough to research what it takes. He was asking about the length of time, the lesson and the costs,” Lysen said. “He certainly strikes me as an apt pupil.”
Harris-Moore said life after prison has been lonely. He is planning to move from his halfway house soon.
“Everything professionally and personally is going slower than the speed I want to move at,” he said.
Harris-Moore said he’d go to great lengths to realize his lofty dream.
“I have the email address of Kellyanne Conway,” he said, referring to President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign manager.
“If it comes to this, I’ll get this taken care of from the top down.”