Reports of a security failure has underscored concerns about breaches… (Associated Press )
NEW YORK -- A longtime Newark Liberty International Airport security worker pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of stealing the identity of a man slain 20 years ago to conceal his illegal immigration status -- a case that has embarrassed an airport already under scrutiny for security lapses.
The man whom police identified as Bimbo Oyewole, but who had lived and worked as Jerry Thomas since 1992, had his first court hearing in Essex County, N.J., a day after his arrest. He pleaded not guilty to identity theft and was being held on $250,000 bail, according to the Associated Press.
Oyewole, who is 54 and lives in New Jersey, has been suspended without pay from his job with FJC Security Services, a New York-based firm that was awarded an airport contract in Newark in October 2003. It inherited Oyewole from previous private contractors who had employed him in various security jobs. Police say he entered the United States illegally from Nigeria in 1989 and stole the identity of a Jerry Thomas who was murdered in New York City in 1992 in a case that was never solved.
The security breach was revealed the same day that a Department of Homeland Security report outlined security lapses at six major airports, including Newark's. The security audit was conducted at the request of New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg in response to problems at Newark Liberty. With more than 33 million people using the airport annually, it is one of the country's busiest, and it was one of the airports used by the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers to launch the attacks on the United States.
The Homeland Security report said that of the six airports it studied, Newark ranked last in its response to security breaches reported between January 2010 and May 31, 2011. The others, which are not identified in the redacted, public version of the report, don't necessarily do much better. According to the findings, an average of 53% of security breaches at the six facilities led to corrective action being taken; at Newark, the total was just 42%.
The findings prompted the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security to schedule a hearing Wednesday that will include discussion of "coordination and adequacy of background checks for airport and airline workers," according to an announcement from the committee.
Among security breaches at Newark since 2010 was an incident in which a Rutgers University student sparked a major alert and forced the closure of an airport terminal for several hours by ducking under a barrier to kiss his girlfriend goodbye in January 2010. The student, Haisong Jiang, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor trespassing charge and was fined $500 and ordered to perform community service.
The Homeland Security report noted other lapses, including that of a dead dog being loaded onto a plane in January 2011 without being checked for explosives or disease. It said Newark had made some improvements.
As the New Jersey Star-Ledger noted, some things still slip through the cracks. It reported that Ardeth Black, 67, of Lawrenceville, had called the newspaper to say she went through security carrying a knife with a four-inch blade that she forgot was in her handbag while headed for a flight to Tampa, Fla., on April 20.
Black said she had the knife because she eats cheese while travelling. She also had some cheese in her carry-on. That got screeners' attention, even if the blade didn't.