Professor acquitted of threatening Liberty Bell screeners

Posted: October 23, 2013

To paraphrase the Gershwins, "You say exclusives, and I say explosives."

In the end, it was Common Pleas Court Judge Diana L. Anhalt who on Monday called the whole thing off, acquitting a professor of charges that he told screeners at the Liberty Bell he was carrying explosives.

"You're free to go," Anhalt told Carlos Balsas, 42, an urban planning professor at Arizona State University from 2004 to 2011 who has been in custody on $250,000 bail since he was arrested on a felony bomb-threat charge near Independence Mall on Jan. 26.

Actually, not free yet.

Defense attorney Allan J. Sagot said Balsas, a Portuguese citizen in the United States for 17 years, probably would not get out of prison until Tuesday and might be held longer if immigration officials want to talk to him.

Balsas' saga began in January, when he came east looking for work.

With an interview at Rutgers University lined up, Balsas decided to see Philadelphia's historic sites and wound up at the Liberty Bell.

According to Edwin Haury, a security screener, Balsas arrived about 10 a.m. carrying a courier sack and a backpack, and put them on a counter when Haury said he needed to search the bags.

Witnesses testified that Balsas became increasingly perturbed during the search, and that when Haury prepared to look into his backpack, Balsas, according to witnesses, said: "I have a bunch of explosives in there."

When an armed security guard came and repeated the screener's request, witness said, Balsas grabbed his bags and said before walking out: "This is the way they treat you in America."

National Park Service rangers followed Balsas several blocks before arresting him at Seventh and Market Streets. Ranger Layla Schade testified that when Balsas was stopped, he refused to take his hands from his pockets, insisting they were "stuck."

Authorities searched the backpack, which contained no explosives.

On Monday, Balsas told the judge it was all a misunderstanding, explaining that he had told the screener, "I have a bunch of exclusives" - a literal translation of the Portuguese word for personal property, he said.

Assistant District Attorney Andrei Govorov pointed out that Balsas had never offered mispronunciation as an explanation.

"You'd think he'd clear up that kind of misunderstanding right away," Govorov said.

Furthermore, it did not make sense that Balsas - who has a Ph.D. and has taught college-level classes and written books and academic articles in English - would mispronounce "exclusive" so it sounded like "explosive," Govorov told the judge.

Anhalt said she would have found Balsas guilty of resisting arrest and disorderly conduct - he spat at the feet of an officer - but he was not charged with those crimes.

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

comments powered by Disqus