- Currently unemployed and with no criminal record, Singh reportedly feared returning to Los Angeles fearing Covid-19.
A man who was living inside a secured area of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport managed to escape detection for three months, according to prosecutors.
Aditya Singh, 36, is charged with felony criminal trespass to a restricted area of an airport and misdemeanor theft. Police said Singh claimed he was too afraid to fly home to California because of COVID-19.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Singh arrived at O’Hare from Los Angeles on Oct. 19 and lived in the airport’s security zone without detection since then.
According to prosecutors, on the afternoon of January 16, two United Airlines employees approached Singh and asked to see his identification. Reports say Singh showed an airport ID badge that he was wearing around his neck. The badge had been reported missing on October 26, 2020, by an O’Hare airport operations manager. The United Airlines employees called 911 and police took him into custody.
In bond court on Sunday, Singh was charged with criminal trespass to a restricted area of an airport and misdemeanor theft. Under Illinois state law, it is a Class 4 felony to enter or remain in a restricted area while improperly wearing the identification of an airport or airline employee.
According to media reports, Cook County Judge Susana Ortiz reacted incredulously after a prosecutor detailed the allegations.
“So, if I understand you correctly,” Ortiz said, “you’re telling me that an unauthorized, nonemployee individual was allegedly living within a secure part of the O’Hare airport terminal from Oct. 19, 2020, to Jan. 16, 2021, and was not detected? I want to understand you correctly.”
Prosecutors told the court that Singh had allegedly found the employee badge in the airport and was “scared to go home due to Covid.” They told the judge that other passengers had been giving Singh food.
“The court finds these facts and circumstances quite shocking for the alleged period of time that this occurred,” said Judge Ortiz. “Based upon the need for airports to be absolutely secure so that people feel safe to travel, I do find those alleged actions do make him a danger to the community.”
Singh, who has a master’s degree in hospitality and is currently unemployed, lives in a Los Angeles suburb with roommates and does not have a criminal background, according to Cook County Assistant Public Defender Courtney Smallwood, who noted the allegations were nonviolent and as reported by Forbes.
If Singh is able to post the $1,000 bail, he will be barred from stepping foot inside O’Hare airport again.
This incident has raised serious questions regarding the security of one of the country’s busiest airports.
At TSA-regulated airports, there are multiple security-related areas where only individuals with an airport ID badge can enter. At large airports, access typically involves a computerized system such as badge readers and automatic locks.
There are four types of airport ID badges at O’Hare, each color coded to visually identify persons authorized to enter controlled access areas. It is not yet clear which level of badge was in Singh’s possession for nearly three months, or whether the security badge was equipped with a GPS tracking chip or location detection device.
The Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement: “CDA has no higher priority than the safety and security of our airports, which is maintained by a coordinated and multilayered law enforcement network. While this incident remains under investigation, we have been able to determine that this gentleman did not pose a security risk to the airport or to the traveling public. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners on a thorough investigation of this matter.”
Speaking to NBC Chicago transportation expert Joseph Schwieterman said, “It shows how things can slip through the cracks. You get an idea at the airport and can go weeks without being detected. It’s really remarkable that in this day and age and security, this occurred.”
Schwieterman further added, “A lot of people no doubt look back and are embarrassed, gate agents that probably saw this individual.”
It is not clear at this time as to why Singh was in Chicago.He is due back in court Jan. 27.