Local/State

Suspect charged in Philadelphia airport hoax

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Authorities say a "compromising" picture of a woman, posted to Facebook, was the catalyst for a hoax that forced an airliner from Philadelphia to turn around in mid-flight.

That was part of an affidavit released on Friday after the suspect, Kenneth W. Smith Jr., 26, of Philadelphia, was charged.

According to a statement from the U.S Attorney, Smith violated federal law by "knowingly engaging in conduct with intent to convey false and misleading information, and doing so via a telephone, an instrument of commerce."

Smith appeared in court on Friday afternoon and was released on his own recognizance. The judge also forbid Smith from having contact with the man targeted by the hoax, Christopher Shell.

Smith is free on $250,000 personal recognizance bond Friday night, but his release comes with a number of conditions. A judge ordered Smith not to contact Shell. He is to report his whereabouts to authorities every day. He must keep his job as a cook at 3 Brothers Pizza Parlor in Port Richmond, and he is not to apply for a passport. Violation of any of these conditions could require him to pay the $250,000 bond.

He is back with the girlfriend who is at the center of the Facebook spat that allegedly triggered the plane bomb hoax.

Kenneth Smith arrived at his apartment with his girlfriend, Ann Marie, just after 6:30 p.m. in no mood to talk.

"Please get off my property," Smith told reporters Friday night.

According to a criminal complaint, Smith called the airport on Thursday, and identified himself as "George Michaels." Investigators say he claimed that a passenger on US Airways flight 1267, Shell, was carrying explosives.

Flight 1267 had already taken off and had been in the air for about a half hour. Authorities ordered the plane back to Philadelphia.

After the plane landed, Shell was taken in to custody, but soon released.

However, during his interview with law enforcement, Shell allegedly stated his belief that his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend, "Kenny," were responsible for making the phone call.

Text messages on Shell's cell phone reveal recent hostile messages exchanged between him and his ex-girlfriend about her interactions with "Kenny," the affidavit said.

Shell also allegedly told investigators that he and "Kenny" had engaged in hostile exchanges previously, and Shell provided the name of "Kenny's" workplace.

Police say they went to his workplace and identified the suspect as Kenneth Smith. He was taken in to custody and, during his interview, authorities say he voluntarily admitted to being the person who phoned in the hoax.

Also during the interivew, Smith said his motive for doing so was to "avenge" his girlfriend, Shell's ex, because Shell had posted a compromising picture of her on Facebook.

Smith works at Three Brother's Pizza in Port Richmond. That's where authorities picked him up on Thursday.

His boss at Three Brother's said Smith came in to work and began chopping onions. That's when the feds came in an placed him under arrest.

Smith's roommate, Chris Walker, said Smith had moved in about two months ago and told the landlord he had recently broken off an engagement with a girl in New Jersey and was looking to make a fresh start in Port Richmond.

Walker said he didn't talk to Smith too often, but noted his current girlfriend did come over from time to time.

When he learned his roommate was accused of phoning in the hoax, he said he was "blown away by the stupidity."

"He's never come across as somebody who would, for all intents and purposes, would hurt somebody or bomb a plane," said Walker. "At the same time, it was a dumb move. "With the anniversary of September 11th coming up, I literally was blown away by the stupidity of it. I mean if I had to capture it in one word, that's what it would be."

Smith's lawyer, William Brennan, said his client is not a bad guy.

"Frankly, he's very embarrassed. He's a hard-working guy, he's been working his entire life, since he graduated high school," Brennan said. "He's never been in trouble a day in his life."

If convicted, Smith faced 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and possible restitution.

Meanwhile, after Shell was released from custody in Philadelphia, he was allowed to continue on to Dallas.

Once he was there, however, Texas authorities arrested Shell on outstanding warrants for two drug-possession charges: having less than two ounces of marijuana and less than 28 grams of a controlled substance. He was jailed Friday morning on $3,000 bond in Collin County near Dallas.

Sources tell Action News that Shell spent two months in jail earlier this year on a robbery charge in Clifton, New Jersey. We asked Shell specifically about this arrest and he did not want to comment about it.

Shell was on his way to Texas to celebrate his 29th birthday.

(Copyright ©2014 WPVI-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

Get more Local/State »


Tags:
philadelphia, philadelphia international airport, dallas, bomb scare, local/state
blog comments powered by Disqus
Advertisement