East Brookfield man gets prison time for illegally flying a helicopter out of his backyard

Prosecutors say Antonio Santonastaso lost his pilot’s license in 2000 after he helped steal a helicopter from Norwood Memorial Airport.

An East Brookfield man was sentenced to eight months in prison Friday for flying a helicopter from his backyard despite losing his pilot’s license over two decades ago.

Antonio Santonastaso, 62, was sentenced in a Worcester federal court for unlawfully operating a helicopter, making false statements to federal investigators, and attempting to tamper with a witness, the U.S Attorney Rachael S. Rollins’ Office said in a news release. He will serve one year of supervised release after he gets out of prison.

In April, a federal jury convicted Santonastaso on one count of serving as an airman without an airman certificate, one count of making false statements to federal agents, and one count of attempted witness tampering.


Prosecutors say in 2000, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revoked Santonastaso’s pilot’s license after he helped steal a helicopter from Norwood Memorial Airport. Feds say that despite being aware of that revocation, Santonastaso operated a Robinson R-22 helicopter — taking off and landing from his backyard — more than 50 times between April 28, 2018, and Nov. 11, 2018.

When questioned by the FAA, prosecutors say Santonastaso lied about his eligibility to pilot the helicopter, denying any involvement in the Norwood helicopter theft. During his trial, prosecutors presented evidence showing Santonastaso tried to “corruptly persuade an individual with the intent to hinder, delay and prevent that individual from reporting his illegal helicopter flights to law enforcement.”

MassLive reported that several neighbors testified at Santonastaso’s sentencing Friday, saying they never witnessed him flying over their homes.

But court documents said a neighbor complained to police in 2018, saying they were concerned about how close he flew the chopper to a yard where their grandkids played. 

In May 2018, a neighbor who shot a video of Santonastaso flying the helicopter posted it on YouTube.

After Santonastaso’s sentencing on Friday, several new comments appeared on the video — some supporting his right to fly, and others citing federal aviation law. 


“Who is he bringing harm to using his own yard? If anything the neighbors are creeping on them taking pictures. Invading his privacy,” wrote one commenter on YouTube. 

“Free my man!! Let him fly free!!” wrote another person, while another commenter wrote, “You don’t own the airspace in your yard. The government does. He doesn’t have a license to fly it. The rules are black and white.”


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