Accused N.Y.-L.A. airline stowaway pleads not guilty

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 18, 2011 5:48 PM
Accused N.Y.-L.A. airline stowaway pleads not guilty

By Jason Kandel

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A man with U.S.-Nigerian citizenship pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of stowing away aboard a commercial airline flight and then trying to sneak into a secure area of Los Angeles International Airport.

Olajide Olewaseun Noibi, 24, was arrested in Los Angeles on June 29 as he tried to board a Delta Airlines flight to Atlanta with an illegitimate boarding pass, according to authorities and court documents filed in the case.

He had been detained and questioned four days earlier after he was found to have taken a Virgin America flight from New York to Los Angeles without paying, the FBI said in an affidavit. He is currently being held without bond.

During a brief appearance for an arraignment in federal court in Los Angeles, Noibi pleaded not guilty to one count of being an airline stowaway and one of attempting to use false pretenses to enter a secure airport area.

If convicted of both charges, he faces a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

Wearing a black skull cap and white prison jumpsuit, Noibi appeared subdued during the hearing. He said little, except to answer "yes" to various procedural questions put to him by U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Abrams.

At a separate hearing later in the day, U.S. District Judge Manuel Real scheduled the case for trial on August 30.

Authorities have said Noibi's motives were unclear, but Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, said on Monday. "We've made no allegations of terrorism" against him.

The FBI has said he told agents who questioned him that he was traveling to recruit people for his software business.

An FBI spokeswoman in Los Angeles has said Noibi was born in the Midwest and carries dual U.S.-Nigerian citizenship.

According to the FBI affidavit, Noibi first aroused suspicion on a "red-eye" Virgin America flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Los Angeles he boarded on the night of June 24.

He was discovered mid-flight in a seat he did not pay for after a flight attendant was alerted by other passengers, the affidavit said. FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said the passengers initially complained about his strong body odor.

When Noibi was asked for his boarding pass, he produced a pass and ticket for the previous day with someone else's name. His name was not on the passenger manifest, and the flight crew alerted authorities on the ground they had a stowaway aboard.

Federal agents met the plane when it arrived the morning of June 25 at Los Angeles, and Noibi was detained for questioning. But the FBI released him "pending further investigation" after no "physical threat" was found, Eimiller said.

The Transportation Security Administration has confirmed Noibi cleared airport security screening before boarding the Virgin America plane at JFK airport.

Noibi told the FBI he managed to get through screening with the boarding pass, his University of Michigan identification and a police report that his passport had been stolen.

He was arrested four days later at the Los Angeles airport as he was trying to get on Delta flight with an old boarding pass, according to the FBI. He was indicted July 8 on both federal charges.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Jerry Norton)