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Root Pleads Guilty to Five Felony Charges

June 5, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A lawyer rescued from the Atlantic with a gunshot wound after a mysterious flight down the East Coast pleaded guilty today to five felony charges that he misrepresented clients.

Thomas Root, 37, a communications attorney, pleaded guilty to submitting a counterfeit Federal Aviation Administration approval form for a radio tower a client was seeking to erect in Missouri.

Root also admitted giving a forged Federal Communications Commission license application for a radio station he was representing in North Carolina, and failing to inform another client that he had accepted a settlement for one-fifth the amount his client authorized.

The guilty plea came a day after a North Carolina grand jury returned a 455-count indictment charging Root with securities fraud and other charges.

The Alexandria, Va., attorney also pleaded guilty to a charge that he submitted a phony lease option to a Long Island radio station seeking a site to build a radio tower. Root also admitted deceiving a client by falsely telling the radio station that he would get its FCC license renewed.

Root would not comment after entering his pleas. His attorney, Eugene Propper, said Root ″feels he’s getting a lot more attention″ than he would if he had not made his plane flight, which ended in the waters off Bermuda after Root allegedly passed out with the plane on autopilot.

Root has said he was unconscious the entire time, but Navy fighter pilots flying near Root’s plane said they saw him moving in the cockpit.

Still unexplained is a bullet wound Root suffered from a gun that he had stored in a glove box in the single-engine plane.

U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens said an investigation by federal officials in Florida is ongoing.

In Raleigh, N.C., a Nash County grand jury issued indictments against Root and others Monday that totaled 2,695 counts. Indicted were Root, Sonrise Management Services, Telemedia Inc. and three other men identified as co- owners of the two businesses.

Root handled radio license applications for investors of Sonrise Management before the Federal Communications Commission.

The indictments allege the companies violated securities laws by not registering securities, failing to register sales agents, engaging in false and deceptive sales practices and conspiring to violate securities laws.

″I really don’t have any reaction until I see the indictment, except to say that my client is not guilty of any securities fraud,″ said Eugene Propper, Root’s Washington attorney.

The Columbus, Ga.-based Sonrise Management, which touted Christian principles in sales literature and issued business cards inscribed with crosses, went out of business several months ago.

In announcing the indictment, North Carolina Secretary of State Rufus Edmisten said only a handful of Sonrise Management investors ever received FCC licenses.

″In all, 1,018 people in North Carolina contributed more than $8 million to this organization,″ Edmisten said. ″Nationally, more than $16 million was invested by people from 25 states.″

Edmisten said there is little chance investors will recoup their money.

″I wish I could say to all the victims, ’We’ll get your money back,‴ he said. ″But I don’t know that we’ll ever get a penny back. At the present time, I don’t know of any money available to make restitution.″

The other men indicted, Sonrise Chairman Ralph Savage and company President Eugene White, live in Phenix City, Ala. They joined with Carl Hurlebaus, who also was indicted, to form Telemedia in Maryland.

Root filed for bankruptcy court protection from creditors in October 1989, claiming he had $1.6 million in liabilities.