Harrison Township man who sexually assaulted teen while giving her flying lessons sentenced

Rex Dale Phelps (Macomb County Jail)

A Harrison Township man has been sentenced to two years in prison after he sexually assaulted a teenager that he was giving flying lessons to. 

Rex Phelps, 72, groomed and inappropriately touched the 15-year-old girl on several occasions. He also exchanged text messages and inappropriate images with the victim, including one message with a photo of a man and woman lying on a bed kissing. It included a comment "Shortly after the shower … without that top.  Maybe more."

Phelps pleaded guilty in October 2023. 

"Teachers and instructors are supposed to protect our youth while they progress in their learning environments, and it is utterly shameful that this individual took advantage of this young girl," said Cheyvoryea Gibson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Michigan.

Phelps was arrested after he mistakenly sent a text message exchange to the wrong person - who then contacted police. He was working as the president of the flight club at Ray Community Airport in Macomb County at the time.

Michigan State Police first received a tip about Phelps' activities on March 1, 2023, according to a federal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

That tip came from someone who had received a text from Phelps that included several pictures. One was a screen capture of a text conversation between Phelps and a minor female. 

The victim told police she was first kissed by Phelps during a flight to Frankenmuth in January. He also exposed and groped the teen at the Ray Township hangar, the complaint says. At one point, Phelps kissed the teen victim "multiple times in the air, which caused the aircraft to turn off course."

After he was detained by police for an interview, Phelps told police of plans to have sex with the teen in May. 

His prison sentence was the maximum permitted by law. 

"This sentence reaffirms our office’s commitment to protecting the most innocent and vulnerable members of our community – children," U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison said. "This defendant violated the trust that so many had placed in him, including the victim’s parents."