Man Sentenced for Defrauding Airline to Fly At No Cost In and Out of LAX

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A former Mesa Airlines employee was sentenced today to 30 months in federal prison for conspiring to fraudulently obtain nearly 2,000 free flights in and out of Los Angeles International Airport and elsewhere for himself and others on Spirit Airlines and to manufacture counterfeit Mesa employee identification badges.

Hubbard Bell, 32, of Houston, Texas, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald, who also ordered him to pay $150,000 in restitution to Spirit Airlines.

Bell, the case's lead defendant, pleaded guilty in September in Los Angeles to one federal count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

From June through October 2015, Bell worked at 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 terminated Bell's employment, from February 2016 to November 2017, he worked 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, prosecutors said.

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 about $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 an updated indictment returned in March 2019. They are scheduled to go on trial on April 13 in downtown Los Angeles.

Photo: Getty Images

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