LOS ANGELES – A former Mesa Airlines employee was sentenced today to 30 months in federal prison for conspiring to fraudulently obtain nearly 2,000 free flights for himself and others on Spirit Airlines and to manufacture counterfeit Mesa employee identification badges.
Hubbard Bell, 32, of Houston, Texas, was sentenced by United States District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald, who also ordered him to pay $150,000 in restitution to the victim, Spirit Airlines. Bell, this case’s lead defendant, pleaded guilty in September 2020 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
From June 2015 to October 2015, Bell worked at the Phoenix-based Mesa Airlines, a regional air carrier. While employed at Mesa, Bell was provided access to free Spirit Airlines tickets as a benefit he was permitted to use only while employed at Mesa. To book a free ticket on Spirit, a Mesa employee entered their personal identifying information and a unique verification code.
After Mesa Airlines terminated Bell’s employment, from February 2016 to November 2017, he conspired with others to sell the stolen and unauthorized information of Mesa employees – including their names, dates of hire, and employee identification numbers – that were needed to book free flights on Spirit Airlines through Spirit’s web portal for themselves and others.
Bell unlawfully used his Mesa employee information to book 34 free flights for himself on Spirit Airline, which allowed him to fly interstate, including into and out of Los Angeles International Airport, despite the fact Mesa Airlines no longer employed him. Bell also admitted he and his co-conspirators manufactured and sold fraudulent Mesa employee identification cards for use by the fraudulent travelers.
In total, the investigation into Bell and his co-conspirators has identified 1,953 flights that were connected to this scheme, flights that were booked for someone that did not match the Mesa Airlines employee whose information was used to book the free flight. The court found the loss to Spirit Airlines was approximately $150,000.
The case’s other defendants – Kamille Jemison, 28, a former Houston resident who subsequently relocated to the Beverly Grove district of Los Angeles; Alphonso Lloyd, 27, of Houston; Femi Felix-Ukwu, 40, of Hartford, Connecticut; Arnold Nichols, 32, of Houston; and Monique Ferguson, 32, of Houston – have pleaded not guilty to criminal charges in a superseding indictment returned in March 2019. They are scheduled to go on trial on April 13.
The case was investigated by the FBI, who received substantial assistance from the Federal Air Marshal Service and the Transportation Security Administration.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Poonam G. Kumar of the Major Frauds Section and Joseph D. Axelrad of the Violent and Organized Crime Section.