Pizza cook admits airplane bomb hoax

Kenneth Smith, right, is walked out of Federal Court with his lawyer, William J. Brennan, left, after his day in court for phoning in false info that targeted about a potential terror threat that caused mayhem for those aboard flight 1267 bound for Texas, specifically Christopher Shell. Friday September 7th, 2012. ( MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )
Kenneth Smith, right, is walked out of Federal Court with his lawyer, William J. Brennan, left, after his day in court for phoning in false info that targeted about a potential terror threat that caused mayhem for those aboard flight 1267 bound for Texas, specifically Christopher Shell. Friday September 7th, 2012. ( MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer )
Posted: January 15, 2013

Love and honor.

That's what Kenneth W. Smith Jr., a Northeast Philadelphia pizza cook, says prompted him to phone in the bogus tip that his girlfriend's ex-boyfriend carried explosives on an outbound plane from Philadelphia last September.

Smith, 26, pleaded guilty Monday afternoon to making false reports about the plane threat, charges that could send him to prison for 12 to 18 months.

U.S. District Judge Gene E. K. Pratter scheduled sentencing for April 16.

The Sept. 6 hoax caused authorities to call back a Dallas-bound US Airways that had already reached Harrisburg and sent agents and rescue personnel scurrying onto the tarmac. There, they pulled Smith's target, Christopher Shell, from his seat, led him away in cuffs, and began to unravel the love triangle.

Asked to name his enemies, Shell named Smith.

Both men had been vying for the same woman, whose name has not been publicly identified.

Smith won - then lost in more ways than one.

For more than an hour Monday, he stood before the judge answering routine questions about his background, struggling to hold back tears. He and his lawyer, William J. Brennan, said they would say more about the crime at his sentencing.

In an interview that aired Friday on the ABC newsmagazine 20/20, Smith said the woman was his co-worker at 3 Brothers Pizza and Pasta in Port Richmond. He and Shell, a Texas transplant living in South Philadelphia, had never met but traded nasty text messages.

When the girl ultimately chose Smith, Shell allegedly retaliated by posting a naked photo of her online. Smith sought revenge.

"I wanted him to pay for what he did," Smith said in the interview.

Using a payphone and a fake name, Smith called airport police and told them Shell was carrying drugs and liquid explosives aboard the United Airways flight.

Smith said he wanted to inconvenience just one person, but acknowledged the impact was wider.

His actions, he told the news program, were "completely moronic."

Smith's plea was never in doubt. Agents found him at work the same day of the hoax and confessed, according to an affidavit from Special Agent David L. O'Brien of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

In November, prosecutors filed charges through an information in the case, an indication that a guilty plea was forthcoming.

The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams, said Smith's plea deal calls for him to reiumburse and write letters of apology to each passenger on the flight, and pay the airline and emergency personnel for the cost of the response.

The total could top $20,000.

In the end, neither guy got the girl, according to Smith. "I love her with all I have," he said during the interview, but she dumped him anyway.


Contact John P. Martin at 215-925-2649, at jmartin@phillynews.com or follow @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

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