Brian Howard pleads guilty in FAA facility fire

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Thursday, May 28, 2015
Brian Howard

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Brian Howard pleaded guilty Thursday to setting a fire at a FAA facility in Aurora that halted flights and disrupted travel across the nation last fall.

Howard, 37, of Naperville, reached a plea agreement with the federal government in which he will spend at least a mandatory decade in prison. Prosecutors said he may also be responsible for more than $100 million in restitution.

The disruption forced an hours-long shutdown of O'Hare and Midway international airports on September 26, 2014. The center didn't reopen for two weeks.

Howard's attorney has argued his client made a "tragic mistake" and should serve his time at a federal prison with mental health treatment.

Howard, a contractor at the Chicago En Route Center in Aurora, also tried to commit suicide on the day he set the fire. His family said he has struggled with mental illness and Howard told the judge Thursday he was taking an antidepressant. He said neither the drug nor his underlying condition impaired his judgement in pleading guilty.

Howard's sentencing was set for September 11, 2015.