Death-match case leads to airline employee arrest

Monday, May 8, 2023
TSA INV team members gather to discuss a case along with Investigative Analyst Britainy Neuman (left). (Photo courtesy of Carrie Hill)

A perfect set of circumstances allowed an airline employee to assume a fake identity for nearly 23 years.

The man succeeded in remaining under officials’ radar, receiving a U.S. passport, birth certificate and Social Security card from different states, exploiting an oversight gap between the different state agencies. Only someone with federal jurisdiction could have spotted the pattern.

The man kept a low profile, was never arrested and lived a normal life in the U.S. working as a flight attendant. But his luck ran out when the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) flagged his records during a routine vetting check.

Close collaboration between DSS and TSA’s Investigations (INV) office ended the airline employee’s multi-year identity fraud stint.  

TSA’s INV team coordinates with local police and DSS’ tactical team before the searching the suspect’s home.
TSA’s INV team coordinates with local police and DSS’ tactical team before the searching the suspect’s home.

The two agencies revealed the man’s scheme when he applied for a new passport. When DSS renews or issues a passport, they cross-reference the applicant’s profile against a database of deceased citizens.

During this check, DSS discovered a probable death-match case, meaning someone assumed the identity of a dead U.S. citizen. DSS found that the accused man had the same birth date as a late child.

Since the man was an airline employee, he also had a Known Crewmember (KCM) badge, leading DSS to contact TSA for support.

TSA requires a full set of fingerprints for KCM applicants, something the other vetting processes – for example, passport issuance – do not require, and that was a key factor in the case.

Seeing as the man was a KCM holder, except for the random screening, he was not required to be screened at TSA checkpoints for years.

INV officially opened the case in August 2021, assigning it to Special Agent Carrie Hill, who works criminal investigations involving fraud of fee-funded programs such as the Transportation Worker Identification Credential program, Hazmat Endorsement program and TSA PreCheck®.

“There were some inconsistencies in the man’s passport renewal application versus the actual birth certificate,” Hill said. “We discovered he didn’t apply for a Social Security card until he was in his mid-20s. DSS sent the case to our Houston office, and once we started investigating, we realized it was definitely fraud.”

Before the airline employee could be charged, Hill’s team needed to identify who the man actually was. INV’s Investigative Analyst (IA) Britainy Neuman was a crucial factor in pulling together those pieces of the case.

“Through IA Neuman’s analytical research, we learned the subject’s identity and that he had family living in Brazil,” Hill said. “In order to pursue false citizenship charges, we needed to prove the man was truly a foreign national. The analytical work ensured that we could prove that part of the case.”

INV worked closely with DSS, and together, the agencies reached out to their contacts in the U.S. and Brazil to run down the man’s true identity. After multiple communications between the agencies and the Brazilian consulate, fingerprints provided by the consulate confirmed the man’s identity.

With their information in order, INV and DSS set out to catch the man in action. 

Investigative Analyst Ronald Jones.
Investigative Analyst Ronald Jones.

“DSS and INV conducted surveillances of his activities,” Hill said. “We reviewed his flying schedule and knew when he was flying in and out of the country. Once we established his residency through surveillance, we took custody of him at the airport.”

After weeks of observation, preparation and collaboration, the DSS and INV teams arrested the airline employee. The man was charged with a laundry list of items, including 18 USC 1036(a)(4), which covers entry by false pretenses to any real property, vessel or aircraft of the United States or secure area of any airport or seaport.

The trial had its challenges, even with INV’s close work with DSS and mounting evidence against the man. There were no pre-established cases to pull verbiage from for the court since it was the first time that violation of TSA’s security requirements resulted in a criminal charge under 18 USC 1036(a)(4).

After a few weeks, the trial ended and the man was returned to Brazil. Now, after a successful court case, Hill uses the 18 USC 1036(a)(4) charge in many of her other INV cases.

“Working collectively with our partners in the KCM program; Intelligence, Research, and Liaison; and outside agency partners has allowed INV the means to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities in different programs, like the KCM program,” Hill explained. “Our value to the TSA mission continues to grow as criminal activity within the transportation security sector evolves.”

“INV support of the vetting programs has increased and provided tremendous value to the TSA mission with the hiring and inclusion of 1,811 criminal investigators,” said Kimberley Thompson, Assistant Administrator of TSA Investigations. “I couldn’t be more proud of Agent Hill and IA Neuman for pulling all the pieces together and making the transportation security system safer.”