Skip to main content

Judge: No bond for man accused of stowing away on cross-country flight

By the CNN Wire Staff
Click to play
Stowaway slips onto cross-country flight
  • NEW: U.S. Rep. Peter King calls the incident "inexcusable" and a "glaring mistake"
  • Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi is accused of breaching security at airports in New York and L.A.
  • Authorities say he traveled on a cross-country flight without a boarding pass or ID
  • The suspect's defender says Noibi is embarrassed by the incidents

(CNN) -- A federal judge declined to set bond Friday for a man accused of stowing away aboard a cross-country flight, saying he needs more information on the suspect before potentially allowing him to walk free on bail.

Olajide Oluwaseun Noibi could get five years in prison if he's convicted on a felony charge for allegedly getting past security at John F. Kennedy International Airport and on a June 23 Virgin America flight to Los Angeles without a valid boarding pass or identification.

While authorities have said they do not have any indication of a terrorism threat related to the case, it has raised questions about the quality of the airport's security as well as Noibi's intentions.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Wilner hinted at such questions Friday morning, when Noibi appeared before him in a Los Angeles federal courtroom wearing government-issued clothing and shackles around his wrists and ankles.

Wilner concluded that "in the absence of clear information about who (Noibi) is (and) what he's doing," he would not set any conditions -- namely, a bail amount -- related to his incarceration and possible release.

2010: Pilot reveals security flaws

Prosecutors said that Noibi illegally traveled on the June 23 cross-country flight to California. But he wasn't arrested until five days later by an FBI agent at a Delta departure gate at Los Angeles International Airport, where Noibi arrived to apparently board another flight -- again, without any proper documentation or a ticket.

Noibi later told authorities that he'd been in the Los Angeles area trying to recruit people for his software company, one that a website indicated was based in Nigeria.

While he has family members in Michigan and Georgia, the suspect doesn't have any known ties to southern California. The prosecution contended Friday that Noibi is a "serious flight risk," adding that he planned to return next week to his native Nigeria.

His public defender, Carl Gunn, said his client comes from a respectable family and has been "doubly, triply, quadruply embarrassed" by the ordeal.

Wilner expressed concern Friday that Noibi is an adept thief who has proven able to obtain other people's boarding passes and breached security at two major airports last month. He said that whenever he makes a determination on bail, conditions would preclude Noibi from flying.

A U.S. citizen who was born in Nigeria, Noibi has a history of allegedly skipping out on travel fares: In January 2008, he was arrested by transit police aboard an Illinois commuter rail train for boarding a train without paying his $4.70 fare, according to an arrest report from the Chicago Police Department.

Earlier this week, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said, "We are investigating his motivation, and whether it was anything beyond not wanting to pay for a ticket."

Regardless of questions about terrorism threats related specifically to Noibi, the incident has raised questions about airline security and how someone could get on a plane without a valid ticket or documentation.

Transportation Security Administration spokesman Greg Soule said in a statement Wednesday that Noibi went through "the same physical screening" as any other passenger at Kennedy airport. Another TSA statement, issued the next day, said an officer failed to properly determine that Noibi "was traveling with improper travel documents."

Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, sent a letter Thursday to TSA Director John Pistole requesting a briefing by July 8 "on the immediate measures TSA is taking to address these recent failures and any disciplinary action being taken against the travel document checker" at the New York airport.

King also called for an audit of the performance by all personnel who check travel documents, adding that almost a decade after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, "failures of this kind should be a thing of the distant past."

"You had all these flags that should have gone off," King told CNN on Friday. "This was a glaring, glaring mistake. It's inexcusable."

The crew on the Virgin America flight didn't become aware of Noibi's presence on June 23 until two passengers complained about his odor, Eimiller said. The 24-year-old was sitting in seat 3A, which was supposed to be empty, and was not on the passenger manifest, according to an FBI affidavit.

Pressed by a flight attendant, Noibi did eventually produce a boarding pass. But the man whose name was on that pass said his boarding pass disappeared from his back pocket on June 22, while he was riding the subway to the airport, according to the FBI affidavit.

Noibi told the Virgin America crew member that his U.S. passport had been stolen and his Nigerian passport was at home, FBI Special Agent Kevin Hogg wrote. He produced an identification card with his full name and photo from the University of Michigan, where a school spokeswoman said he'd studied from 2004 to 2006.

After the pilot confirmed Noibi shouldn't be on the flight, the crew kept him "under surveillance, but at no time felt there was any threat," Virgin America said in its statement. Noibi slept for most of the roughly 2,500-mile flight, the airline said.

Hogg wrote in the FBI affidavit that Noibi claimed he'd been told he could go to the Delta gate on Wednesday, despite having shown a "portion of a green boarding pass" that was for the previous day. The FBI agent said Noibi eventually admitted that he had not paid for his Virgin America ticket to Los Angeles, according to the affidavit.

Authorities found Noibi had two boarding passes in his pocket and more than 10 in his two bags -- none of them in his own name -- the affidavit said. Eimiller said the FBI hadn't determined how he got the boarding passes.

CNN's Paul Vercammen and Sandra Endo contributed to this report.