LOS ANGELES – A Nigerian American accused of breaching three layers of airport security while getting on a cross-country flight with an expired boarding pass was ordered Friday to remain in federal custody as more questions arose about his intent.
"I'm just not sure what is going on," U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Wilner said during a court hearing for 24-year-old Oluwaseun Noibi. "I have a real problem with candor here."
Authorities said Noibi boarded a flight in New York on June 24 using an expired boarding pass with someone else's name on it. The Virgin America crew didn't realize until mid-flight that an extra passenger was onboard in a premium seat that was supposed to be empty.
After arriving at Los Angeles International Airport and spending several days in the city, Noibi was arrested for investigation of trying to board a Delta Air Lines flight with another expired pass. A search of his bag found about 15 expired boarding passes, none in his name, authorities said.
Noibi was charged with being a stowaway on an aircraft.
Noibi has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Nigeria. In court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Alon said Noibi had lived much of his life in Nigeria.
Investigators were looking into whether he had any terrorist links in that country.
However, asked if any terrorism charges would be filed, Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said, "We've made no allegations other than he was a stowaway."
Prosecutors also noted Noibi had been arrested in 2008 for riding a train without paying for a ticket.
Magistrate Wilner said Noibi may be just a petty thief adept at using expired boarding passes. Still, he said he was hesitant to grant bond because more information was needed about the defendant's background.
Wilner also cited court documents that Noibi didn't appear to have a permanent residence and had no money on him when he arrived in Los Angeles, although he told investigators he was in town to recruit people for his software business.
Noibi's attorney, deputy federal public defender Carl Gunn, said his client was extremely embarrassed about the incident, and his family, which is spread out across the U.S., was a "little freaked out" by the attention the case has received.
"The fact that he has this reaction to this, it says something that he's not some anti-social" person, Gunn said.
Noibi told federal investigators he was able to go through security screening in Los Angeles by presenting a boarding pass, his student identification and a police report that said his U.S. passport had been stolen, according to court documents.
The Transportation Security Administration said passengers are required to show a federal or state-issued photo ID in order to go through the checkpoint. Passengers who forget or lose their identification are allowed to fly if they provide information about their identity that can be substantiated. If cleared through that process, they can be subjected to additional screening.
TSA spokesman Nico Melendez declined to comment on whether Noibi underwent additional screening at LAX, citing the ongoing FBI investigation. The agency also won't say what form of identification Noibi presented to pass security at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
The TSA said in a statement the officer who reviewed Noibi's travel documents "did not identify that (he) was traveling with improper travel documents." The agency maintained he received the same thorough physical screening as other passengers.
"Our approach is designed to ensure that security is not dependent on any single layer of security," the statement said.
Virgin America said the airline has security and screening systems in place to prevent passengers from boarding flights on a different date than noted on their boarding pass.
"However, in this case it appears staff may have missed an alert when the passenger presented a boarding pass from a prior flight," the statement said.
The airline said it was reviewing training procedures to ensure that the "anomaly" doesn't happen again.
Prosecutors, who argued Noibi was a flight risk and a danger to the community, said he was planning to return to Nigeria on July 7 and still has his passport from that country.
"The chances of him appearing in court are slim," Alon said in arguing against the bond. "I would not want to be present at 30,000 feet," if this happens again.
If convicted, Noibi could face up to five years in prison. A preliminary hearing was set for July 13.
Associated Press Writer Daisy Nguyen contributed to this report
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