A New Jersey man is due in federal court Wednesday after being charged with sex abuse for allegedly molesting a woman sleeping next to him on a plane from Phoenix to Newark, officials said.
Bawer Aksal, 48, of North Bergen, N.J., was arrested after the woman complained that he touched her breasts and genitals while she was sleeping beside him on the United Airlines flight, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday.
The two did not know each other, said officials at the U.S. Attorney's office in Newark.
The woman, who fell asleep with a jacket across her legs, awoke to find Aksal's hands inside her shorts and shirt when he whispered to her, "Kiss me," officials said.
After demanding Aksal get off her and slamming down the armrest between them, the woman then rose and went to the back of the plane, where she reported what happened to a flight attendant, the U.S. Attorney’s office said in a statement.
Upon landing, FBI agents arrested Aksal. During an interview with police, he admitted to having his hand in the victim’s shorts, but he claimed she forced his hand there.
Police interviewed another passenger seated next to Aksal, who said he noticed that while the victim appeared asleep, he saw Aksal’s arm under the jacket that was draped across her legs.
Aksal was detained upon landing in Newark Monday afternoon. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison and a $250,000 fine. Attorney information was not immediately available.
The U.S. Attorney’s office said the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over all sexual abuse cases that occur in American airplanes, and such events are outside the jurisdiction of any state.
In a similar incident, a woman who took a sedative on a Hawaiian Airlines flight from the Philippines to Honolulu last week reported that a man fondled her several times while she slept in the seat next to him, Honolulu's KHON reported.
The man, Luavalu Seuva’ai, 22, claimed he did not sexually touch the victim but was merely flirting with her when he rubbed her arm.
Hawaiian Airlines said as soon as the alleged incident was reported to flight attendants, Seuva'ai was moved to a different seat and authorities were notified. He was taken into custody upon landing.
Seuva’ai appeared before a federal judge Monday and pleaded not guilty to the charge. The judge ordered that he be released to his sister until his next court hearing in September ona $25,000 signature bond.
NBCNewYork.com contributed to this report.
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