NEWARK, N.J. — A Newark Liberty Airport security supervisor pleaded not guilty to identity theft Tuesday as new details emerged about his alleged 20-year odyssey of deception, including that he may have assumed the identity of a New York man weeks before the man was murdered.
Through his court-appointed attorney, Nigerian Bimbo Olumuyiwa Oyewole pleaded not guilty to one count of identity theft, a second-degree offense punishable by a maximum 10-year sentence.
Standing in an orange prison jumpsuit and flanked by two sheriff's officers, Oyewole appeared via video feed from the Essex County Correctional Facility where he has been held since his arrest Monday at his home in nearby Elizabeth.
Municipal Court Judge Roslyn Holmes-Grant raised his bail from $75,000 to $250,000 after Deputy Attorney General Vincent Militello noted that prosecutors believe Oyewole may have used several aliases over the years.
"We simply do not know who this gentleman is," Militello told the judge. "Therefore he is a flight risk."
Oyewole also has been placed under a federal immigration detainer, essentially a notification that he has been identified for deportation. He spoke once during Tuesday's hearing, to answer a question from the judge on his place of residence.
Oyewole is charged with using the identity of Jerry Thomas, a petty criminal who was shot outside a Queens, N.Y., YMCA in July 1992. Thomas' murder remains unsolved, but police in New York said Tuesday there is no evidence tying Oyewole to Thomas' shooting.
However, two law enforcement officials with knowledge of the investigation said Oyewole began using Thomas' birth certificate and Social Security number three weeks before Thomas' murder. The officials requested anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss details of the case publicly.
In another curious detail, Thomas is buried in Elizabeth in a cemetery Oyewole would likely have to pass on his way to work, the officials said.
Authorities were alerted to Oyewole's alleged double life when the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey's inspector general's office in Hoboken received an anonymous letter, the officials said. The letter described Oyewole's using additional names, though those weren't divulged Tuesday.
The Port Authority, which operates the area's main airports and other transit hubs, said Oyewole entered the United States illegally in 1989 and had worked under several contractors at the airport, most recently FJC Security Services, and supervised about 30 guards. The agency said its investigation found no indication that he used the fake identity for any reason other than to live in the United States.
An FJC spokesman said Monday that Oyewole didn't have access to employees' personal information in his position as tour supervisor.
Potentially more problematic from a security standpoint, Oyewole had access to sensitive areas of the airport, including the tarmac and the planes themselves. The employees he supervised also inspected cargo vehicles for possible unauthorized cargo, an airport employee familiar with Oyewole told The Associated Press on Monday.
Officials from the Port Authority, which oversees the private security firms that are employed at the airport, planned to meet with FJC officials to discuss rechecking their security personnel on a regular basis, a Port Authority spokesman said. Spokesman Steve Coleman said the Port Authority wasn't aware of any other security guards who had been found to have used fake IDs.
The Transportation Security Administration, which was created in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, requires individuals who have access to sensitive areas of airports to carry a Secure Identification Display Area badge, which requires information including proof of name, place of birth and a social security number. The Port Authority is responsible for validating that information and collecting other information to submit to the FBI for a fingerprint-based criminal history check, according to the TSA. The TSA then conducts a security threat assessment.
Since Oyewole apparently had no criminal record, his fingerprints connected to Thomas' name could have slipped through the cracks unnoticed initially, particularly before Sept. 11 when background checks weren't as stringent. Once TSA was established, Oyewole had already been classified as a tenured employee and didn't require additional identity verification, TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said Tuesday
Oyewole's attorney is expected to file for a bail reduction, and a hearing could happen later this week or next week. A formal arraignment is scheduled for June 18.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long in New York contributed to this report.