Suspect who called in flight threat hoax arrested, victim jailed on drug warrants

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by MATT GOODMAN and STEVE STOLER

WFAA

Posted on September 7, 2012 at 11:32 AM

Updated Friday, Sep 7 at 7:46 PM

DALLAS – The apparent hoax victim who was arrested upon his arrival at D/FW International Airport Thursday had warrants for drug possession filed by the Collin County Sheriff’s Office.

Christopher Shell, 29, was aboard Flight 1267 from Philadelphia International Airport to D/FW Thursday morning, which was grounded because of a report that someone onboard was carrying liquid explosives.

Shell was among the 69 passengers escorted off the flight. The only difference was that police were awaiting his arrival. 

According to an affidavit released Friday morning, 26-year-old Kenneth Smith, of Philadelphia, called police from a payphone posing as a person named “George Michaels” and reported that Shell had “liquid explosives” on his person. 

The affidavit alleges Shell and Smith “had engaged in hostile exchanges previously.” Shell turned over his cell phone to investigators, who discovered a series of “hostile messages” sent between Shell and Smith. Shell said he believed Smith and his ex-girlfriend were the ones who concocted the plan and called in the hoax report.

Police arrested Smith at his workplace later in the afternoon. During questioning, he said that he and another unnamed person knew Shell was flying to D/FW on Thursday and decided to call police from a payphone to say Shell was carrying narcotics.

Smith's motivation was to "avenge" Shell's ex-girlfriend, of whom he posted a compromising photo of on Facebook.

The affidavit says Smith voluntarily told investigators that he made the false call, spurring the grounded flight and the immediate investigation. He faces 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and restitution. 

During a press conference Thursday morning, Philadelphia Police Chief Joseph Sullivan said Shell was shocked when police pulled him aside. He volunteered a search of his person and cell phone, the affidavit says, neither of which contained any evidence that Shell had explosives on him.

"He was obviously very alarmed, as I would be if heavily armed police officers entered a plane to take me off," Sullivan said. "And he was certainly stunned. And that's why this is no joke, this is no laughing matter."

The cell phone, however, led investigators to Smith, whose attorney said from Philadelphia that his client simply made a poor decision.

"Frankly, he's very embarrassed," said Bill Brennan, Smith's attorney. "He's a hard-working guy, he's been working his entire life. He's never been in trouble a day in his life." 

The incident took another twist when Shell finally returned to North Texas. The Collin County Sheriff’s Department had D/FW Airport Police arrest him upon landing. 

According to a police report, Shell had a warrant for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana and another warrant for possession of a controlled substance less than 28 grams. 

McKinney police say Shell failed to appear in court on the charges almost one year ago. So when they heard he was being returned to D/FW, they had him arrested. Shell exited the Collin County jail Friday afternoon and declined to comment. 

He was arrested outside a Walmart in October last year.

E-mail sstoler@wfaa.com

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