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DENVER - Federal charges face a Denver man accused of aiming a laser pointer at the Denver Police Department's helicopter three times on two consecutive days in April.
Nathan James Finneman, 26, was indicted by a federal grand jury earlier this month, and turned himself in Thursday morning. The DPD helicopter, called "Air One," used on-board equipment to determine the source of the laser beam.
"Aiming a laser pointer at a helicopter or aircraft is not game -- it is a crime," Denver Police Chief Robert White said in a statement provided by the Department of Justice. "We are thankful that Air One has the technology to identify persons committing this type crime, as it did in this case."
Finneman, who's facing up to 15 years in prison and a fine of $750,000 if he is convicted, appeared in federal court Thursday afternoon and spoke to 7NEWS Reporter Lindsay Watts after the hearing.
"Some friends of mine and I got together and we had a few drinks," Finneman said. "We had a cheap $8 laser pointer, and we were shining it at the buildings and various things."
He said they saw the chopper and wondered if the beam could reach it. He said he had no intention of hurting someone and was "just having fun." Finneman said he later learned that what he did could blind a pilot and cause a crash after the FBI knocked on his door about a month later.
"They said that it's possible, and I was shocked," Finneman said.
He said he's currently a college student and he requested a public defender at his hearing Thursday.
FBI spokesman Dave Joly said this is the first case of its kind to be prosecuted in Colorado, but added that laser strikes on planes is a growing problem and its often difficult to catch the perpetrators.
According to FBI data, since they began tracking laser strikes in 2005, there has been a more than 1,000 percent increase in the number of incidents. In 2013, there were 3,960 laser strikes against aircraft reported, an average of almost 11 incidents per day.
Thousands of attacks go unreported every year, the FBI estimates.
After Finneman's court appearance Thursday, he was released on $5,000 unsecured bond. He is due back in court on July 22, for arraignment.