Monday, May 28, 2018

IASCO Flight Training

Attorney: Chinese flight student had been expelled, kidnap charges disputed

More information came to light Saturday in the alleged kidnapping of a Chinese student by two top administrators of a Redding flight school.

The attorney for one of the defendants disputed the abduction charge and instead said the two employees were taking the student to the airport for a flight home to China because he flunked his classes and his visa had expired.

"He was expelled from IASCO because he simply could not cut it," San Francisco attorney Naomi Chung said in a statement provided to the Record Searchlight.

Chung represents Kelsi Hoser, the director of administration and secretary at IASCO. Redding police arrested both Hoser, 50, and IASCO Flight School General Manager Jonathan McConkey, 48, at the Redding Airport on May 25 on suspicion of kidnapping aviation student Tianshu "Chris" Shi.

Shi told police he was taken against his will from his Trudie Trail apartment and put in a van by McConkey and Hoser enroute to the airport for a flight to China. Shi contacted a relative in his home country during the ordeal, who then alerted police.

Shi's mother, who identified herself only as Mrs. Zhu, declined to immediately respond Saturday to Chung's comments. She flew to the U.S. last week to be with her son.

"At present we are looking for a suitable lawyer to help us," she said via email. "We will have a lawyer send a statement for us later."

There are a number of reasons why the flight school wanted to send Shi home, Chung says in her comments that shed light on the case from the defendants' point of view.

Shi has said he had no idea why he was supposed to leave the U.S. and return home. He did say he was grounded for the past two months and wasn't able to fly or train.

According to Chung, Shi's visa to attend vocational school had expired and he was failing at the flight school. In addition, Chung said:

Shi failed all of his ground school and first simulator tests.

Of his 23 attempted lessons, eight received unsatisfactory grades and 10 were given incompletes.

An inability to communicate with air traffic control was flagged as a major safety concern.

Shi has said in a previous interview with the Record Searchlight that he never had an issue with his flight skills, but thinks he was excused from training because of his English.

“I can’t speak English well in life, but I can speak English well with air traffic control,” he told an R-S reporter.

But Chung said Shi's inability to communicate with air traffic control was a major concern. "No one wants an unsafe pilot if something was to go wrong," she said.

Chung said the flight school worked with Shi to improve his aviation skills and provided one-on-one instruction to help him.

Chung also said employees heard Shi had become suicidal and upset.

"It's our belief that Mr. Shi was terrified to return home after failing school," she said.

As for the audio recording believed to be the voices of McConkey and Hoser that Shi recorded before he was taken from his apartment, Chung said that was part of a setup because Shi provided only about three minutes of the conversation that didn't provide the full story.

"The context is everything in this case but he really doesn't discuss what happened prior to that night before," Chung said.

In a previous interview, Shi said McConkey and Hoser visited him late Thursday night and told him to get packed for a flight home Friday.

Chung said the two flight school employees used strong language in ordering Shi what to do because they were frustrated and aggravated with the situation.

"I think everyone wishes they could be more patient at times," she said.

Chung said McConkey and Hoser had Shi, 21, and a second flight student, 24-year-old Zhang Xun "Max" Yi, in the van on their way to the airport and at one point dropped McConkey off at his home.

She said Hoser is a 50-year-old, 90-pound Chinese-American woman who was driving the two young men by herself in an unlocked van without any weapons.

"She's not kidnapping him (Shi). She's just going to send him back home," Chung said.

The two instructors at IASCO flight school in Redding are back on the job after being arrested, accused of kidnaping student Tianshu Shi.

Attorney John Runfola said his client Jonathan McConkey and IASCO employee Kelsie Hoser are innocent and that the incident was not a kidnaping because there were no weapons or restraints involved.

He said Mr. Shi was picked up at his home and transported in an unlocked van driven by Hoser who weighs about 90 pounds.

“It certainly doesn't sound like a kidnaping to me,” Runfola said. “And I'm hopeful that it won't sound like a kidnaping to a jury or law enforcement.”

Runfola said he has documents that show Shi's visa had expired May 25 and that McConkey and Hoser were simply trying to send him home because he was no longer enrolled in the training program at the flight school.

But this isn't the first time the school has faced charges of wrongdoing.

IASCO is also battling an unrelated civil lawsuit filed in a Sacramento federal court last year by a former IASCO certified flight instructor.

CLICK HERE to read the complaint.

The lawsuit alleges the school violated FAA rules by forcing instructors to work long hours and teach students who "lacked the ability to read, speak, write and understand the English language."

The school also had other civil suits filed in Shasta County that were settled out of court going back as early as 1992.

Runfola said he has documents that Homeland Security already had an order for Shi to be removed from the country and what his client did was more akin to a citizen's arrest

“There's just such hysteria that when government is not responding,” Runfola said. “People are stepping in to fill the gap”

He said he's confident his client will be exonerated once he submits the documents he has in his possession.

“What I'm more hopeful of is that the district attorney's office and that local law enforcement will sort through the documents I'll be sending and see that it's more than a three-minute audio,” Runfola said.

Shi was unavailable for comment.

A person close to him said he's not wanting to speak out at this time.

McConkey and Hoser are scheduled to appear in Shasta County Court June 29.

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REDDING (CBS13) – A Northern California flight school with employees facing allegations of kidnapping, conspiracy, and threatening deport one of its students, is also battling a separate civil lawsuit.

Court documents filed against IASCO Flight Training last year by a former IASCO certified flight instructor claims the school violated FAA rules by forcing instructors to work long hours and teach students who “…lacked the ability to read, speak, write and understand the English language.”

The civil case is still working its way through the Sacramento federal court.

The school is under new scrutiny after an audio recording published by the Redding Record Searchlight includes an exchange with IASCO Flight Training manager Joseph McConkey, shouting at a Chinese national student-pilot.

“Hey listen to me,” McConkey said. “I’ve got your f****** passport. You’re leaving now. Immigration will take you to f**** jail. Get your s*** together you have five minutes.”

The obscenity-laced recording also includes the voice of IASCO employee Kelsie Hoser.

“You are hear [sic] illegal,” Hoser said. “You know that? If you don’t go with us, you go to jail.”

Redding police say the pair made the threats to a Chinese national student and threatened to deport him. They are facing kidnapping and conspiracy charges. The Record Searchlight reports the student they targeted is named is Tianshu Shi.

IASCO is an FAA certificated pilot school that caters to Chinese-nationals, who use student visas while they are enrolled.

Attorneys for McConkey and Hoser issued a joint statement calling the arrest in the new criminal case a complicated situation. They say their clients are innocent.

The statement reads, in part:

“Mr. Shi was given every legally permissible opportunity to successfully complete his training but was unable to demonstrate competency.  He was given ample notice that he was required by law to return home to China upon his expulsion from the flight program.”

Attorneys for Hoser and McConkey deny the allegations and say they intend to prove their clients’ innocence.

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REDDING, Calif. — A former IASCO employee is speaking out about what she witnessed in her short time as a dispatcher for the Redding flight school.

The former employee wants to remain anonymous but told KRCR when she heard the audio file that included multiple threats, one coming from IASCO Instructor, John McConkey, the other from the flight school's Director of Administration Kelsi Hoser, it sounded all too familiar.

"Sounds like the language they use in the dispatch office," the woman said adding she started looking for work after two months because of the way they treated the students.

It was Friday, May 25 when Redding police officers say McConkey and Hoser went to student, Tianshu Shi's apartment and told him he was being sent back to China. When Shi refused to leave, he claimed McConkey and Hoser threatened him and attacked him, then took him to the Redding Municipal Airport.

Redding Police received a call from Shi's brother in China who said he was worried about him. McConkey and Hoser were later arrested at the Redding Airport for conspiracy and kidnapping. Both posted bail that same evening.

When asked if either McConkey or Hoser were still employed with IASCO or back at the school Tuesday, a member of their staff, who would not identify himself, said the flight school is "back to business as usual."

Jonathan McConkey is represented by attorney John M. Runfola out of San Francisco and Kelsi Hoser is represented by Naomi Chung, the attorneys released a joint statement that reads:

"Our clients vehemently deny the allegations that have been made and intend to prove their innocence. 

In the coming weeks, we will provide you with additional facts, documentation, personal information regarding Tianshu Shi, and information regarding the complexities of training a foreign national post-9/11. This is a very complicated situation involving multiple agencies.

IASCO Flight Training Inc. expelled Mr. Shi early this month for failure to meet the standards set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Mr. Shi was given every legally permissible opportunity to successfully complete his training but was unable to demonstrate competency. 

He was given ample notice that he was required by law to return home to China upon his expulsion from the flight program.

Mr. Shi’s mother and her attorney have flown in from China in a continuing attempt by Mr. Shi to circumvent American regulations and avoid shame and humiliation at home.

We ask the press and public to withhold judgment, afford our clients their presumption of innocence, their right to be tried in a courtroom and to respect their privacy as this process proceeds."

The former employee doesn't know Shi or the student, Zhang Xun Yi, who has come forward for similar reasons since. However, she remembers a culture of demeaning behavior when she worked there in 2016. She also stated the students do not have much of a life outside of school and it's not in their nature to complain which is why she can't imagine one of them getting to the point of expulsion.

"They don't do anything on the weekends, they don't go anywhere because it is ingrained in them that this is school," she furthered, "They will do anything to please their instructors. They're just young men here to better their lives."

KRCR called IASCO but they did not provide a response to the allegations. Runfola told KRCR over the phone the student was given every chance to complete the flight school before it came to this.

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REDDING, Calif. — The IASCO Flight Training School, also known as IFT, is an international flight training school in Redding.

On Friday, May 25, the brother of a student from the school told Redding police that he had been kidnapped and was told he was being sent back to China. Two people were arrested on kidnapping and conspiracy charges at the Redding airport and the victim was released.

The Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC), a regional airline, helps screen potential students and send up to 180 future pilots to the school in Redding.

According to their site, the first step in getting into flight school is through the airline. The airline provides a group of students for the school to select from.

The school then holds a testing and interviewing process for the students.

Both the IFT and the airline plans the students' arrival into the U.S. with government documents and clearances.

Once the students arrive, they complete a training orientation and an "indoctrination course" and then the actual flight training begins.

According to their site, during the training, the students are required to use English in all communications and improve their English skills during the program.

However, the program's site does not state if students are tested for English skills prior to being accepted into the program or if they are required to.

When they successfully finish their training, they receive a certificate of completion on their particular course of training.

The cost to attend the school is not listed on their site.

KRCR News Channel 7 has reached out to the school for information about alleged kidnapping and the flight training program but we have not received a response.

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A second IASCO Flight Training student has come forward to say he was confronted in his home by the program's manager and told he'd be sent home to China immediately over what he says was a small infraction of rules.

Zhang Xun Yi, 24, shared his experience after the case of Tianshu Shi, the 21-year-old man Redding Police say was the victim of an attempted kidnapping by two employees of the school, became public.

Yi said the school grounded him about three weeks ago. He said he believes it was because he allowed a friend he has made in Redding into his home to use the restroom. A call to IASCO was not returned Saturday.

Meanwhile, Shi, who goes by Chris, shed more light about a confrontation Friday morning that he said led his family to contact Redding Police. Officers later arrested IASCO general manager Jonathan Lipton McConkey, 48, and his assistant, Kelsi Hoser, 50. 

Audio recording sheds light on harrowing experience 

During an exclusive interview with the Record Searchlight Saturday, Shi produced an audio recording he said he made in the early hours on Friday when McConkey and Hoser showed up at his home on Trudie Trail in Redding.

Shi played the audio on his smartphone for the Record Searchlight and allowed a reporter to record it. The three people heard on it — a man speaking loudly in English, a woman who speaks both English and Mandarin, and Shi — do not state their names during the recording. The details in their conversation fit with the statements police have made about the incident.

Redding police Sgt. Gary Meadows has been handling the investigation. He did not immediately respond to an email sent Saturday afternoon asking him to confirm whether investigators have a similar recording.

Both McConkey and Hoser were booked into Shasta County Jail on suspicion of kidnapping and conspiracy to commit a crime. Late Friday, however, they were not listed in the jail's electronic custody roster.

Shi said he has no idea why he was supposed to be sent back to China.

Shi told police McConkey and Hoser battered him and forced him to leave the house to go back to China.

It all started about 11 p.m. on Thursday when Shi said he was visited by Hoser and McConkey and was told to have his things ready and packed to leave for the airport the next day at 6 a.m. He was never given a reason why, he said, and refused to leave.

“I said I didn’t receive any documents from China, so I decided not to go back,” he said. Shi said he enrolled in the program through Civil Aviation Flight University of China.

Shi said he didn't sleep all night and believed his roommates had been told to watch him.

The Redding Police Department provide these booking photos of Kelsi Hoser and Jonathan McConkey on May 25, 2018.

What is on the profanity-laced recording

When McConkey and Hoser showed up at his home, Shi said he decided to record audio of the incident.

“You’re going home, with or without your luggage,” a male voice is heard saying.

A woman's voice is also clearly audible, speaking Mandarin to Shi.

Then, the woman raises her voice and switches to English, demanding that Shi do the same.

“If you cannot speak English, you are not going to be able to stay here,” the woman is heard saying.

Shi is heard faintly referencing the documents he says he hasn't received. The man replies that Shi is in his custody.

“Do you understand what in my custody means? Do you understand? It means I will forcibly remove you,” The male voice says. “If you want the police to come with guns, I got you on that. Alright? You ass is leaving right now. Let’s (profanity) go.”

The man's voice is heard saying he has Shi’s passport.

“Boy, don’t (profanity) with me, do you understand?” the male voice says.

Shi asks if the man is threatening him.

“Your ass is getting on the plane right now or I’ll break your (profanity) arm. You better believe I’m (profanity) threatening you. And the United States government needs you out of this country right now, you understand?” the male voice says.

“You are here illegal, you know that. If you don’t go with us, you go to jail,” the female voice says.

“You’re going to jail if you don’t go with me,” the male voice adds.

Shi has been in the United States approximately seven months. He arrived on an M-1 visa, which is allotted to students who enroll in vocational programs. He said his visa is valid for one year, and his university paid approximately $70,000 for him to train at IASCO. But for the past two months, he’s been “grounded,” unable to fly or train.

He said he’s never had an issue with his flight skills, but suspects he was removed from training because of his English.

“I can’t speak English well in life, but I can speak English well with air traffic control,” he said.

During the confrontation with McConkey, Shi said the manager gripped his right arm and bent his left side over the kitchen island. Saturday morning, he said he was still experiencing pain in his right arm.

'It's ridiculous, they can't treat us like this'

Shi’s roommate, who spoke on condition that he not be named out of concern for his safety, said he witnessed the whole altercation.

“It’s ridiculous, they can’t treat us like this,” the roommate said. “They treated [Shi] like an animal, not a human being.”

Shi said he was unsure what he could and couldn't do. “I don’t know American laws,” he said.

Yi, who also goes by the name Max, said he also witnessed part of the exchange the morning before McConkey's arrest. At the time, he was waiting in a van he said was driven by Hoser.

“(McConkey) grabbed Chris’s arms and Chris tried to get away,” Yi said. “I saw that Chris was frightened at the time.”

Yi said he, too, had received a visit from the flight school director and assistant. McConkey and Hoser came to his house Thursday night around 11:40 p.m., he said.

Yi said he woke up to someone yelling his name from downstairs, and then McConkey came into his room and told him to get dressed. He said he was told in front of his six roommates that he was being sent home to China and had to be ready at 6 a.m. He said his roommates were told to stay awake and watch him.

“I was really scared at that time,” he said. “I don’t want to leave, I just do what they say.”

Since the alleged incident Friday morning, Yi said he doesn’t feel safe in his home. He said he believes he is being “supervised” by roommates and IASCO staff even though he’s been grounded for nearly a month.

Saturday morning, he went to the nearby Walmart, where he encountered a Redding police officer and spoke to him about the Friday incident. Not knowing his own rights, he asked police officers what he could do, and the officer handed him a pamphlet for the Victim’s Bill of Rights, Marsy’s Law.

Yi said he is baffled that all the students' passports were confiscated by flight school officials.

“All of us don’t have a passport,” he said. “I asked for it a couple of times. They didn’t give it to us.”

Yi said he is being sponsored through Xiamen Airlines, which paid more than $90,000 for him to attend IASCO flight school. But if he doesn’t finish school, he said, he and his parents, who are his co-signers, are on the hook to pay back the money. 

But since Friday's incident, Shi believes the American legal system will work out for him. He said seeing Redding police officers respond to the airport within 10 minutes of his brother calling from Shanghai, China, was a relief.

“At that moment, police is my Jesus,” Shi said.

Shi said he plans on hiring an attorney, while Yi plans on calling on the Chinese Embassy for help.

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(CNN)  A pilot and his assistant have been arrested in Northern California and are accused of kidnapping and attempting to deport a 21-year-old Chinese flight student.

Jonathan McConkey, reportedly the general manager of the IASCO flight school, and his assistant, Kelsi Hoser, are accused of planning and carrying out the kidnapping.

Incidentally, the flight school posted a video on Facebook last year talking about how much it enjoyed training Chinese flight students.

In a statement, the Redding Police Department said McConkey and Hoser had warned flight student Tianshu Shi on Thursday night that "they were sending him back to China."

The next morning, they showed up at Shi's home, where "McConkey battered him, and threatened physical violence if he did not go with them."

Fearing for his safety, Shi left with McConkey and Hoser, but not before calling his brother in Shanghai, who then contacted Redding police. Officers found all three at the Redding Municipal Airport.

McConkey and Hoser were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy and kidnapping.

Shi, who was released by police after questioning, told the Record Searchlight newspaper that he had no idea why he was kidnapped. However, he had been banned from flying two months ago, and suspected it was because of his English.

"I can't speak English well in life, but I can speak English well with air traffic control," he told the Searchlight.

Shi said that when McConkey and Hoser arrived at his house, he decided to record the interaction.

In the audio recording Shi gave the Searchlight, a man's voice is heard saying, "You're going, with or without your luggage."

A woman is also heard speaking Mandarin to Shi, before she switches to English and says, "Speak English, please! Can you speak English? If you cannot speak English you are not going to able to stay here."

After the woman tells Shi that he is in their custody, the male voice adds, "And the United States government needs you out of this country right now, you understand?"

The woman then accuses Shi, in broken English: "You are here illegally. You are here illegal. You know that. If you don't go with us, you go to jail."

Shi has been in the US for about seven months on an M-1 visa, which is valid for a year. Though he sustained minor injuries and was shaken by the kidnapping, Shi told the Searchlight he was grateful to the police officers.

"The police officer is the best American," Shi said.

When contacted by CNN, Hoser had no comment. Attempts to reach McConkey were not immediately successful.

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The general manager at IASCO Flight Training in Redding and his assistant have been arrested on suspicion of kidnapping one of the students.

Sgt. Gary Meadows said police were tipped off around 7:15 a.m. today by the student's brother, who lives in Shanghai, China.

Baihan Fu called the Redding Police Department after receiving information that his brother, Tianshu Shi, was assaulted earlier in the morning, Meadows said in a news release.

Officers went to Redding Municipal Airport, where IASCO trains its pilots, and arrested Jonathan Lipton McConkey, 48, about an hour after the call came in to police, Meadows said.

They also arrested Kelsi Hoser, who the department identified as McConkey's assistant. 

Shi, who also goes by the name Chris, was visibly distraught and shaken, when he spoke to a reporter Friday afternoon from his Trudie Trail home. Shi said he was feeling "very bad" and that he was shaking, but his four other roommates were watching out for him.

"My inside is bad because I never had this experience before," he said of his mental state. He's only been here for seven months, he said.

During the morning incident, he alleged McConkey came to his residence and was cursing. It frightened him, Shi said.

"He's very rude, used too much dirty words. I can't describe," he said.

He alleged McConkey gripped his right arm and hurt him and told him he needed to get on the plane to go to the Bay Area and on to China.

Shi called his brother Fu in China to tell him what was happening. Fu, who Shi said spoke better English, reported to Redding police what was happening to his brother.

When officers found Shi, they returned him to his Trudie Trail home. Shi said he was thankful to the officers who intervened and trusts the American legal system to uphold his rights.

"The police officer is the best American," he said.

McConkey and Hoser were booked into Shasta County Jail on suspicion of kidnapping and conspiracy to commit crime. Their bail was set at $100,000, according to the jail's electronic custody listings.

Officials with the flight school declined to comment. In the Trudie Trail neighborhood, students wearing the school's uniform, a red jacket and navy blue slacks, were seen boarding a shuttle bus.

According to police, McConkey and Hoser, 50, went to the alleged victim's residence Thursday night to tell him they were sending him back to China. The pair returned to the residence Friday morning and when the victim refused to leave, McConkey battered him and threatened physical violence if he did not go with them, police said.

Fearing for his safety, Shi left with McConkey and Hoser, who took him to Redding Municipal Airport, police said. Officers found Shi, McConkey and Hoser at the airport this morning. 

Shi had minor injuries and was released after being questioned by police.

It is not clear how long McConkey has worked at IASCO. His business card lists him as "Capt. Jonathan McConkey, General Manager." 

IASCO trains Chinese students to fly for Chinese airlines.

 In 2015, Jiutian International Flight Academy, or JTFA, purchased IASCO from a local group that had owned it since 2012.

Meanwhile, John Fitzpatrick, who came on as IASCO's chief operating officer last summer, told the Record Searchlight this afternoon he was terminated in December but declined to comment further. He moved away from Redding soon after his termination.

Fitzpatrick was not aware of the arrests.

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Jim B said...

This needs to shake-out in court.

Anonymous said...

Time to shut them down folks.