May 3, 4:05 PM EDT

Suspect in Chicago-area FAA fire formally charged

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CHICAGO (AP) -- A suburban Chicago contractor accused of setting fire to an air traffic control facility has been formally charged.

The U.S. Attorney's office announced the charges Friday against 37-year-old Brian Howard of Naperville. The September fire forced the shutdown of O'Hare and Midway international airports.

Howard was a contract employee working at the facility in Aurora. Authorities say he cut cables and set fire to a basement telecommunications room.

He is charged with one count of willfully setting fire to, damaging, destroying or disabling an air navigation facility; and one count of using fire to commit a federal felony.

If found guilty, Howard could face up to 30 years in prison.

His attorney, Ron Safer, says Howard has "always accepted responsibility for his conduct" and they believe the charges are fair.

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