Airplane hoaxer gets 15 months in prison

Kenneth W. Smith Jr.

Kenneth W. Smith Jr. was sentenced to 15 months in federal prison today for an airplane hoax he called in against a romantic rival that grounded a U.S. Airways flight in September.

"I never meant to hurt anyone" Smith said. "Regrettably, I did, and for that, I'm truly sorry."

On Sept. 6, Smith, 26, called airport police and said that Christopher Shell, 29, who was traveling on a flight bound for Texas, had liquid explosives with him. The plane Shell was on was over Harrisburg when it was ordered to return to Philadelphia and Shell was led off the plane in handcuffs.

Smith said he made the call because Shell, who had dated the same woman as Smith, had posted nude photos of the woman on Facebook. That young woman was at Smith's guilty plea hearing in January, but was not in the courtroom today. Smith's attorney, William Brennan, said "apparently, she's moved on."

As for Smith, he admitted he's a hopeless romantic who becomes attached to his girlfriends. He said the 19-year-old woman who inspired him to make the dumbest phone call of his life had "lured me with promises of love and a future together."

Brennan did not gloss over the fact that his client's actions were mind-numbingly stupid.

"This was a doozy. On a scale of boneheaded moves, this was way up there," Brennan said. "If they publish a list of 100 bad decisions in the last 50 years, he could probably be on it."

Smith's friends and family, who testified at the hearing, spoke of how he grew up in a bad neighborhood, lost his mother when he was young and contracted hepatitis C from a tattoo.

"So we need to keep you away from tattoo parlors and computers. And women," said U.S. District Judge Gene E. K. Pratter at sentencing.

Aside from serving 15 months in federal prison, Smith was also ordered to serve three years probation and 300 hours of community service. He was also ordered to pay more than $17,000 in restitution and write 38 apology letters to the victims.