Sunday, August 2, 2015

Man behind airplane hoax pleads guilty after "20/20" interview

After admitting his guilt in an interview during an episode of 20/20 titled "Faking It" that aired on Friday, it was pretty clear that Kenneth Smith Jr. wasn't going to trial for calling in a hoax against his romantic rival that grounded a U.S. Airways flight in September.

Man behind airplane hoax pleads guilty after "20/20" interview

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After admitting his guilt in an interview during an episode of 20/20 titled "Faking It" that aired on Friday, it was pretty clear Kenneth Smith Jr. wasn't going to trial for calling in a hoax against his romantic rival that grounded a U.S. Airways flight in September.

Today, he made it official when he pleaded guilty to two felonies in federal court. 

As part of his plea agreement, Smith will pay an estimated $25,000 restitution to U.S. Airways, emergency responders and passengers on board the flight. He will also write apology letters to each of the passengers. 

Though he faces up to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced on April 16, Smith's lawyer, William Brennan, said the recommended sentencing is 12-to-18 months.  

Smith, 26, called airport police on Sept. 6 and said Christopher Shell, 29, who was traveling on a flight bound for Texas, had liquid explosives on board with him. The plane, with 69 passengers and five crew members aboard, was over Harrisburg when it was ordered to return to Philadelphia and Shell was led off in handcuffs.  

According to court documents, Smith called in the threat from a payphone because Shell, who had dated the same woman as him, had posted naked pictures of the 19-year-old woman on Facebook.

In the "20/20" piece, Shell, who was also interviewed, said he posted the naked photo after the woman ended their relationship.  

"The Facebook photo was there to say 'Hey. See you later. I had my fun. Bye,'" Shell said in the interview.  

Smith claims he called in the threat as an act of chivalry to avenge the woman's honor, though he said in the interview he now knows his actions were "completely moronic." 

"It all happened so fast," Smith said in the interview. "Make a phone call in the morning and 6 o'clock at night I'm sitting in a cell."

In the "20/20" piece, both men said they were no longer romantically involved with the woman at the center of the incident. However, that woman appeared in court today to support Smith at his hearing. Brennan said the two are now just friends.

Outside of the courtroom today, Smith declined to answer questions. When asked why he granted "20/20" an interview, he said "I wanted to make sure people knew I was sorry for what happened."

Smith cried several times during the hearing. He said he lost his job at a pizza shop as a result of the incident but has gained employment at another restaurant. He admitted to the judge that he had smoked marijuana two days prior to the hearing, but said he would stop.

Stephanie Farr can be reached at farrs@phillynews.com.

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Philly Confidential, which covers crime in Philadelphia and the suburbs, is written by Daily News staffers Dana DiFilippo, Stephanie Farr and Vinny Vella.

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