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A man’s scheme to get free Spirit flights landed him a jail sentence

U.S. attorneys say a Houston man sold fraudulent airline-employee ID cards to gain free-flight privileges.


(Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

Fake IDs are apparently not just for liquor stores and bars anymore; some travelers have been using them to illegally gain free flights.

A Houston man who U.S. attorneys say manufactured, used and sold fraudulent airline-employee ID cards to gain free-flight privileges on Spirit Airlines was sentenced on Wednesday to 30 months in prison by a U.S. district judge in California. The man, a former Mesa Airlines employee who had legitimate access to the Spirit Airlines flight privileges as a work benefit until 2015, allegedly started the scam after Mesa Airlines terminated him in 2015.

Officials said Hubbard Bell, 32, made the fake Mesa Airlines credentials using actual employees’ personal information. The fake ID ring ran from early 2016 to late 2017, and it resulted in 1,953 known flight bookings reserved for someone whose name did not match the Mesa Airlines employee used to book the free flight. Personal information including employees’ names, dates of hire and employee identification numbers were allegedly sold in the scam.

In September, Bell pleaded guilty via remote video conference to one count of conspiracy to commit wire forgery. In addition to his prison sentence, Bell has also been ordered to repay $150,000 in lost ticket charges to Spirit Airlines.

“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,” the U.S. attorney’s office of Central California said in a news release. “Bell also admitted he and his co-conspirators manufactured and sold fraudulent Mesa employee identification cards for use by the fraudulent travelers.”

The identity theft case was investigated by the FBI with assistance from the Federal Air Marshal Service and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), according to the news release.

Five alleged co-conspirators located in Houston, Los Angeles and Hartford, Conn., pleaded not guilty in indictments in early 2019 related to the scam, and they are set to appear in court in April.

Read more:

These U.S. airlines are offering preflight testing — for a price

Spirit Airlines is letting you book flights over text. That’ll be $25.

Are layovers riskier than long-haul flights during the pandemic? Here’s what doctors say.

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