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Newark airport security? Worker used fake ID for years, police say

May 15, 2012|By Tina Susman
  • Reports of a security failure has underscored concerns about breaches at Newark Liberty International Airport.
Reports of a security failure has underscored concerns about breaches… (Associated Press )

NEW YORK -- Twenty years ago, a man named Jerry Thomas died in New York City -- murdered in Queens in a case that was never solved. Not long afterward, a man named Jerry Thomas began working at Newark's international airport. The second Jerry Thomas remained there until this week when police arrested him on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant who had lived and worked using the dead man's identity.

The case has underscored concerns about security breaches at Newark Liberty International Airport, one of the country's busiest, despite what many say are Draconian measures put into place since 2001 to prevent security violations. A Department of Homeland Security report released Monday, the same day Bimbo Oyewole was arrested and accused of stealing Jerry Thomas' ID, said that most security breaches at Newark failed to lead to corrective action.

Oyewole was being held Tuesday in the Essex County Jail on $75,000 bail and was to be arraigned later in the day. There was no indication he was involved in the murder of Thomas, who according to media reports was shot to death in the New York City borough of Queens at a YMCA in July 1992. Oyewole had entered the United States illegally three years earlier from his native Nigeria, police said, and he was able to take on Thomas' identity when he applied for a job at Newark.

That was long before enhanced security measures were imposed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; but Oyewole had to pass various security screenings as he advanced through the ranks at Newark and worked for various non-governmental contractors. His most recent job was with FJC Security Services, a privately owned security services provider based in New York that, according to its website, has 5,500 employees.

According to FJC spokesman Michael McKeon, Oyewole -- known to FJC as Thomas -- passed all background checks during his years at FJC. "He had nothing in his record or his performance to indicate a cause for concern or a reason to question the state police and federal government's background checks," McKeon told the Los Angeles Times.

McKeon said the employee was inherited from a prior contractor, Haynes, at Newark's airport after FJC was awarded an airport contract in October 2003. The man had worked for three other firms prior to Haynes, including Gateway Security, Lance Security and Task Force Security. 

As is the case with all employees, the man known as Thomas was re-vetted by FJC, a process that includes reviewing all relevant paperwork, including birth certificate and Social Security card, McKeon said. That procedure also involves running worker information through the New Jersey State Police's Guard Registration process, which includes checking fingerprints.

Under the New Jersey state police system, all security guards must renew their registration every two years, though typically fingerprints are checked only in the first application -- in this case, in 2003. In addition, because of the man's role at Newark, he was also vetted independently by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

"Based on the serious nature of the allegations against him, he has been suspended without pay pending the outcome of the investigation," said McKeon.

Steve Coleman, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which manages the airport in Newark as well as major airports in New York City, said Port Authority officials were in touch with FJC over the incident. "Our leadership called and spoke with FJC Security ... and will meet with them in the coming days to take every legally permissible step to re-check their security personnel on a regular basis to protect our customers, employees and facilities," Coleman told The Times.

Tuesday's report from the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General found that only 42% of security breaches reported at Newark between January 2010 and May 31, 2011, had led to corrective action. The 36-page report, which focused on Newark Liberty, said the Transportation Security Administration "misses opportunities to strengthen aviation security," but it noted that Newark had made improvements since 2010 to lessen its "security breach vulnerabilities."

Nonetheless, the report said that in January 2011, a dead dog was loaded onto a departing flight without being screened for explosives or disease and two weeks later, a carry-on bag containing a knife was missed by TSA screeners.

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tina.susman@latimes.com 

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