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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Jersey

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Airline Passenger Charged With Abusive Sexual Contact Of Sleeping Woman On Flight From Los Angeles To New Jersey

NEWARK, N.J. - An airline passenger was charged with sexually touching a sleeping woman who did not know him aboard a flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Newark Liberty International Airport, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced today.

Veerabhadrarao Kunam, 58, of Visakhapatnam, India, is charged by complaint with one count of abusive sexual contact. He appeared yesterday afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph A. Dickson in Newark federal court and was released on $50,000 secured bond.

Kunam was arrested on July 30, 2016 – the day his flight arrived in Newark – and was taken into federal custody by the FBI.

According to the complaint:

Kunam was seated next to a woman who occupied a middle seat on a Virgin America redeye flight from Los Angeles to Newark. While the plane was in the air, the woman fell asleep. She awoke to find Kunam massaging her genitals and rubbing his bare feet against her bare feet.

Upon noticing Kunam touching her, the victim alerted her male travel companion who traded seats with the victim and confronted Kunam. Kunam allegedly told the victim’s travel companion that he wanted everyone to forget about the incident and offered to buy the travel companion a drink for any trouble he may have caused. The travel companion declined Kunam’s offer and alerted a flight crew member about what had occurred.

A member of the flight crew then moved Kunam to another seat and instructed him not to return to his original seat. Kunam allegedly told the flight crew member that he would not touch the victim again.

The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over all sexual abuse cases that occur on aircraft in flight in the United States.

The abusive sexual contact charge carries a maximum potential penalty of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher, and the Port Authority Police Department, under the direction of Superintendent Michael A. Fedorko, with the investigation leading to the charge.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Francisco J. Navarro of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Newark.

The charge and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Defense counsel: Alexander Spiro Esq., New York

Updated August 2, 2016