A soldier who did not have permission to leave his base is facing federal charges after prosecutors said he brought a gun on an airplane and claimed to be a military policeman transporting it as evidence.
A grand jury indicted Jaiden Higueros Monday on charges of impersonating a federal officer and carrying a weapon on an aircraft.
The charges stem from a United Airlines flight on Feb. 15 from Chicago to Nashville. Pvt. Higueros is based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and had traveled to Chicago four days earlier without receiving permission from the Army — making him absent without official leave, or AWOL, prosecutors said in court filings.
A defense attorney appointed to represent Higueros declined to comment in a statement to McClatchy News on Tuesday.
Higueros is 19 years old, WKRN reported. According to a complaint filed in the Middle District of Tennessee in April, he flew to Chicago with his personal gun — a Glock 43 9mm — in his checked luggage. But he missed his flight home, forcing him to re-book.
The next available flight to Nashville was operated by United Airlines, prosecutors said. But a ticketing agent told Higueros the check-in process for his gun would take too long for him to make it.
That’s when he told the agent he was a “LEO,” or a law enforcement officer who is allowed to fly armed, the complaint states.
Higueros showed the agent his military ID and was subsequently brought to the TSA checkpoint for armed law enforcement officers, prosecutors said.
Law enforcement officers are required to present an assigned UFAN, or Unique Federal Agency Number, at a TSA checkpoint when they are flying armed, the government said. They’re also supposed to sign a log and show credentials, including a second form of ID, a badge, an airline flying armed form and a boarding pass.
Higueros didn’t have the required UFAN — nor did he know what one was — but was allowed through, prosecutors said.
He reportedly told security agents he was military police, “only had a few minutes to make his flight” and “had evidence in his bag that he had to get to the destination by a certain time.” Prosecutors said a supervisor cleared Higueros to head to his gate.
The plane doors were shut by the time Higueros arrived, according to the complaint, but the flight crew agreed to let him board.
Once on board, he reportedly talked to the pilot, saying he was a law enforcement officer carrying a gun but that “there was no reason for concern.” Prosecutors said he then took his seat and slept for most of the flight.
It wasn’t until they were approaching Nashville that Higueros got up and took his bag with the gun to the bathroom to change his shirt, prosecutors said.
One of the three Federal Air Marshals on board — all of whom had been notified that an armed law enforcement officer was on the flight — noticed Higueros go to the bathroom. In the complaint, prosecutors said the air marshal thought Higueros was “acting suspiciously.”
When Higueros returned, the air marshal questioned whether he was armed.
“Higueros told (him) that he was a Military Policeman and was transporting the firearm as evidence in a crime and would be handing it over to the FBI in Nashville, Tennessee,” prosecutors said.
He also handed over his military ID and flying armed paperwork and gave permission for his bag to be searched. The unloaded Glock, one magazine with six rounds of ammunition and one empty magazine were reportedly found inside.
But Higueros couldn’t provide valid law enforcement credentials, resulting in the air marshal handcuffing him. He was subsequently arrested at the airport in Nashville when they landed.
According to the complaint, Higueros told investigators it had all been a lie — he was not on any official business, he did not have permission from the Army to take the trip to Chicago, the gun was his personal firearm and he was not a law enforcement officer.
“Higueros explained that his primary motivation was to get home, and that he had no malicious intent for his actions,” prosecutors said.
Court filings show a federal magistrate judge signed a warrant for his arrest April 5. Higueros was arrested on the federal charges three days later, and prosecutors asked that he remain in jail while the case went to trial.
A federal judge, however, released him April 13 on his own recognizance.
The charges on which Higueros was indicted Monday carry a maximum of 13 year in prison and $500,000 in fines.
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