Self-taught TRF pilot pleads guilty to plane theft
By Stephen J. Lee / Grand Forks Herald
Geoffrey Biteman, 18, pleaded guilty Monday to stealing of an airplane in Roseau, Minn., as part of a plea deal, said county prosecutor Michael Grover.
During a hearing Monday in state district court in Roseau, Biteman and a judge agreed to the deal, which includes 60 days in jail and 60 days on electronic home monitoring.
The crime of motor vehicle theft has a top sentence of 10 years in prison and $20,000 fine.
During the summer and fall, Biteman had stolen the 1971 Cessna 150 and flown it several times into the Thief River Falls airport. He later left the plane at a St. Thomas, N.D., farm where he got injured when he rolled a sugar beet truck in October.
Investigators said he apparently learned to fly mostly on his own and admitted he had no pilot’s license.
The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating Biteman for piloting an aircraft without a pilot’s license, said FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Cory.
The court system is not done with Biteman yet. He’s also due to be sentenced Dec. 16 in Clearwater County for stealing a horse trailer in Bagley, Minn., in June. The Marshall County Sheriff’s Department is also investigating his alleged involvement in the theft of a horse.
Biteman attended high school in Roseau and has been living in Thief River Falls this year, investigators said.
He has no serious criminal record and could have qualified for a stayed sentence under state guidelines, according to Grover. His sentence will include a deferred sentence of 13 months in prison which could be imposed during five years of unsupervised probation if he violates its conditions.
He also must pay about $1,000 in fines and fees and any restitution determined by the airplane’s owner.
Biteman has been in the Roseau County jail since his arrest in October.
Marshall County Sheriff John Novacek said his office is investigating Biteman over the horse theft allegations and has turned over information to the county attorney. So far no charges have been filed in Marshall County, a court official said.
Joey Benke, Middle River, Minn., said Biteman stole a horse from her in July and hauled the horse to an auction in Verndale, Minn., near Wadena, and sold it for $350, far below its actual value of several thousand dollars. She said she contacted the sale barn which held the horse until she picked it up.
The horse, a registered Quarter Horse gelding well-trained to work with cattle, is 11 years old, she said.
Biteman and a teen-aged girl showed up at Benke’s farm in mid-July, posing as interested buyers and talked to her daughter, who showed them some of their horses, according to Benke.
The two apparently drove back later at night, tried unsuccessfully to herd some of her cattle into the trailer — based on tracks in the pasture, downed fences, and a pair of tennis shoes left in the mud — then took the horse, Benke said.
Trudy Sundby, an owner of R&J Horse Sales in Verndale, said once she was tipped off about the horse being stolen, she stopped payment on the check to Biteman. Sheriff’s investigators made a report, Sundby said, and Benke picked up her horse.
Sundby said the sales barn has never had a stolen horse sold there before.
“I will be watching for that name again, that’s for sure,” she said of Biteman.