The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

State News

April 22, 2013

Philly man gets 15 months for bogus plane threat

PHILADELPHIA — A man who called in a bogus airplane threat to get back at a romantic rival over a Facebook photo was sentenced Monday to 15 months in prison.  

Kenneth Smith, 26, also must send written apologies to 38 passengers who were aboard when their flight turned around and armed agents stormed the plane at Philadelphia International Airport.

Smith, a pizza cook, was angered over a compromising photo of his girlfriend that rival Christopher Shell had posted online. So he called authorities to report that Shell had liquid explosives on a flight that was en route to Dallas last fall.

“You’d be better off looking in the mirror and facing yourself than looking at Facebook,” U.S. District Judge Gene Pratter told Smith, noting that the tactic of ratting someone out smacked of middle school.

Defense lawyer William Brennan said his client understands the terror he caused – but had no terrorist intentions.

“He did it in part over the unrequited love of a young lady that he felt was wronged,” Brennan said after the hearing. The woman, who had attended an earlier proceeding, was not in court.

“Apparently, she moved on,” Brennan said.    

Both men lost their jobs after the Sept. 6 incident. Shell directed investigators to the Philadelphia pizzeria where Smith worked, and Smith acknowledged using a pay phone to report that Shell was carrying liquid explosives on the flight.    

Shell, for his part, was arrested on unrelated charges when he resumed his trip to Dallas, where he had planned to celebrate his 29th birthday. Collin County authorities were waiting with two outstanding drug-possession warrants when he landed at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The status of those charges was not immediately known.

Pratter advised Smith to work toward a GED degree while in prison, and ordered him to perform 300 hours of community service during three years of parole. She suggested he spend some of that time telling young people about how he contracted Hepatitis C from a tattoo.  

“So we need to keep you away from tattoo parlors and computers,” Pratter said.  

Smith, of Philadelphia, faced up to 15 years in prison on the charges, and 18 to 24 months under federal sentencing guidelines. He must also pay $17,300 in restitution for costs endured by police and firefighters.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams, in her sentencing memo, called Smith “a very lucky man because, amazingly, no one was hurt that day.”

Still, she said he put many lives at risk.

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