He was fired from his airline job when his employer discovered that as a teenager, he had been found responsible for child sex crimes.
But Timothy J. Foster liked the dividends of airline work, principally the perks that included discounted travel.
His desire to continue flying for cheap — and the prospect of again working at an airport — led the 21-year-old Omaha man to begin a criminal fraud, his attorney said during his client's sentencing Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Omaha.
Foster used a counterfeit identification badge, which authorities say he made using a computer, to appear as though he were an airline employee who worked at Eppley Airfield.
He spent parts of 12 days during six weeks beginning in April in secure sections of the airport as he “shadowed” a United Airlines employee whom he had deceived.
Foster, who pleaded guilty to entering the areas under false pretenses, had worked for Sky West, a United subsidiary, for about a month in the fall of 2010.
Using perks linked to his airline job and his work as a bellman at the Hilton Omaha, he traveled around the country. The jet-setting stopped when he was fired, after the airline discovered that he hadn't reported on a job application the juvenile sex assault charges.
Foster didn't want the fun to end.
“He had tasted what it was like to be in the airlines and get those upgrades,” said his attorney, Joshua Weir, according to an audio recording of the sentencing provided by the court. “And so it began innocently enough.”
The fraud got under way when Foster, at Eppley as a passenger on an oversold flight, was offered a voucher, according to a criminal complaint filed by an FBI agent.
As he discussed the situation with an airline employee, Foster said he was a part-time United Airlines employee who lived in Omaha and commuted to work in Portland, Ore. Foster asked the employee if he could watch her to learn gate operations in Omaha and said their bosses had approved it.
He spent two shifts a week for six weeks with the gate agent, wearing three badges on his shirt. One of the identification cards appeared to be similar to one in use at a Portland airport, which made Foster appear to be a legitimate United employee. The criminal complaint says Foster made the badge.
It is unclear whether Foster's breach altered security procedures at Eppley. Bob Rockwell, chief of the airport's police department, declined to answer questions about security procedures.
U.S. Magistrate Thomas Thalken sentenced Foster to five years of probation.
Among the conditions: He is not allowed at an airport without the permission of his probation officer. He must pay a special assessment of $10. He must attend a victim awareness program and receive mental health treatment.
And because of his juvenile sex offense, Foster is also barred from having contact with children.
As a 16-year-old, Foster pleaded no contest in Knox County to seven counts of third-degree sexual assault of a child. Two other felony sexual assault charges were dismissed. The assaults occurred in 2007.
Foster, who declined to speak at his sentencing, could have been fined and could have received six months' imprisonment, either confined to his home or in jail.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Frederick Franklin asked Thalken to require Foster to post $500 during each year of the probation period. He declined.
“This is very, very serious, scary conduct that he engaged in, and a lot of bad things could've happened,” he said.
Franklin suggested that a sentence that included some jail time was appropriate, so Foster would “somehow disabuse himself of the reality of the kind of conduct that he engages in.”
Before he delivered the sentence, Thalken drew a link between the defendant and a 2002 film that told the story of Frank Abagnale Jr., who impersonated an airline pilot.
“It's as though you watched the movie 'Catch Me If You Can' and wanted to emulate the person in there,” he told Foster.
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