updated 12/17/2008 8:39:18 AM ET 2008-12-17T13:39:18

An Australian court sentenced a bogus aircraft engineer to nearly 3 1/2 years in prison Wednesday for endangering thousands of lives by conducting crucial safety checks on Qantas Airways aircraft without the qualifications.

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Timothy Leslie McCormack pleaded guilty in September to 42 charges relating to the deception at Sydney Airport, where he worked for 10 months before the national carrier discovered he had faked his qualifications.

By the time his deception was exposed in July 2007, McCormack had conducted 30 "substantial and significant" safety checks on airliners departing Sydney, putting 12,000 lives at risk, Judge Mark Marien said at the District Court of New South Wales on Wednesday.

"The potential consequences of that course of conduct might have been catastrophic," Marien said in sentencing the 27-year-old to three years and five months in prison. He will be eligible for parole after two years.

The judge also berated McCormack for presenting four forged character references at an earlier sentencing hearing.

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