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Airport security guard worked under dead man's identity

The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 06:03 AM

NEWARK, N.J. — A Nigerian man used the identity of the victim in an unsolved murder to hide his status as an illegal immigrant while working undetected for two decades as a security guard and then a security supervisor at one of the United States' busiest airports, authorities said Monday in announcing his arrest.

The arrest of Bimbo Olumuyiwa Oyewole came on the day a federal report found the Transportation Security Administration's handling of security breaches at the airport, Newark Liberty International, deficient.

Newark has had a number of high-profile security breaches, the most notorious being the case of a Chinese graduate student who slipped past an exit checkpoint to say goodbye to his girlfriend in 2010, shutting down a terminal and causing huge delays affecting domestic and international traffic.

Oyewole, 54, worked at the airport, starting in 1992, under the name of Jerry Thomas, who was killed that year in New York City. He was arrested, after an anonymous tip, at his home in Elizabeth on Monday and faced charges including identity theft, authorities said. It wasn't immediately known how Thomas' personal information was acquired.

Police in New York didn't say whether Oyewole was a suspect in the July 20, 1992, killing of Thomas in Queens.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the area's main airports and other transit hubs, said Oyewole entered the United States illegally in 1989 and had worked under several contractors at the airport, most recently FJC Security Services, and supervised about 30 guards. The agency said its investigation found no indication that he used the fake identity for any reason other than to live in the United States.

Port Authority leaders had spoken with FJC officials "and will meet with them in the coming days to take every legally permissible step to recheck their security personnel on a regular basis and to protect our customers, employees and facilities," agency spokesman Steve Coleman said.

A message left Monday on Oyewole's home phone was not returned, and no one answered the door at the apartment. The Port Authority said it wasn't sure if he had retained an attorney.

FJC Security, which received an airport contract in 2003, said it conducted a background check on the guard as had New Jersey state police and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

"In all cases, he passed the background checks," FJC spokesman Michael McKeon said. "During his time with FJC, he had nothing in his record or his performance to indicate a cause for concern or a reason to question the state police and federal government's background checks."

McKeon said Oyewole, in his position as tour supervisor, didn't have access to employees' personal information.

In a statement, the TSA said it was reviewing the Port Authority's procedures for validating employee and contractor documents.

"This investigation indicates that the individual's identification documents were presented to the Port Authority for verification about a decade before TSA existed," the statement said.

State police spokesman Lt. Stephen Jones said New Jersey requires security guards to undergo training under the Security Officer Registration Act and be fingerprinted. The fingerprints are run through the state police criminal history database before a guard is certified.

A candidate is disqualified if he or she has a conviction for a fourth-degree offense or higher or a drug offense of any level, Jones said. Oyewole, as Thomas, was certified under SORA, he said.

A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection didn't immediately return a message seeking comment.

An airport employee who was familiar with Oyewole as Thomas said the private security guards he supervised are responsible for manning TSA security checkpoints after passenger gates close for the evening and before they reopen in the morning. The guards also inspect delivery vehicles for possible unauthorized cargo, he said, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the matter.

A search of public records found evidence of a Bimbo Oyewole and a Jerry Thomas living at the address where Oyewole was arrested.

A report released Monday by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General found that only 42 percent of reported security breaches from January 2010 to May 2011 led to corrective action, though it also found TSA had worked to improve its response.

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