tandem skydiving
An example of tandem skydiving, which is when two people jump using a single parachute. Credit: Wikicommons

Jury Convicts Skydiving Instructor Operating Uncertified Tandem Jump Course

Authorities say the unauthorized skydiving instructor provided fraudulent certifications to students, one of which died during a jump.

A federal jury convicted a skydiving instructor who had lost his certification but continued to train others anyway of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft last week. After a seven-day trial, the jury found 49-year-old Robert Pooley, of Acampo, California, guilty on five of the six counts he had been charged with in a case about how he operated his business.

The investigation into the skydiving instructor

In court documents, prosecutors say Pooley was certified to teach tandem skydiving in 2010. The practice typically involves two people — an experienced jumper and a beginner — sharing a single parachute.

According to the skydiving school Skydive Perris's website, becoming an instructor requires a mix of experience, training, and licensing. The list includes accruing 500 skydives, attending a tandem training course approved by the United States Parachute Association, obtaining a USPA D- License, have three years in the sport, secure an FAA Class III Medical, and obtaining a USPA Coach Rating.

However, the certifying organizations suspended his rating in August 2015. They said he had to wait a year before he could be reinstated. In the indictment, authorities said that Pooley acknowledged the terms of his suspension in writing with the certifying organization. But the organizations declined to reinstate him when he became eligible. Afterward, he continued providing the instruction anyway.

Prosecutors said Pooley lied to students, who paid between $1,100 and $1,600 for his courses, saying he could certify them. He went so far as to help students from all over the world complete official paperwork. He also provided fraudulent signatures so it appeared his students were also certified.

Then, in August 2016, one of Pooley's students fell to his death during a tandem jump (the student's customer also died). Following the incident, numerous students asked for their money back, but Pooley did not repay them and several had to pay to attend an entirely new certification course.

According to the indictment, federal authorities listed seven unnamed victims in the case, including his student who died in the tandem jumping accident. They included people from California, Mexico, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Chile, and Australia.

With a guilty verdict, Pooley may face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The court scheduled sentencing for August 2024.