By Peter J. Sampson
HACKENSACK, N.J. — A New Jersey man accused of sexually assaulting a sleeping passenger on a Newark-bound flight was ordered detained on Wednesday after a prosecutor argued he poses a risk of fleeing to his native Turkey.
Calling it a troubling case, U.S. Magistrate Mark Falk ordered that Bawer Aksal, 48, a citizen of both the United States and Turkey, be held in federal custody pending a further hearing on Monday.
Aksal, of North Bergen, N.J., was arrested by FBI agents on Tuesday and charged with sexually abusing a woman on a United Airlines flight from Phoenix.
The unidentified woman, who did not know Aksal, was seated by the window on the evening flight and fell asleep with headphones on and a jacket over her legs, federal authorities said.
She awoke to find one of Aksal’s hands groping her breast under her shirt and his other hand in her shorts, authorities said.
After she awoke, Aksal, who was breathing heavily, whispered to her, “Kiss me, kiss me,” authorities said. The woman demanded that Aksal get off her and slammed down the armrest between them. Aksal removed his hands, sat back in his seat and closed his eyes, authorities said.
Noticing the commotion, the passenger in the aisle seat asked the woman if she needed to get up. The two then walked to the rear of the plane where the victim reported the alleged assault to a flight crew member.
Upon landing, Aksal was interviewed by law enforcement officers and admitted to penetrating the victim with his fingers but claimed the victim had forced his hand, according to the arrest complaint.
Dressed in a light gray T-shirt, designer blue jeans and flip-flops, Aksal was brought into Falk’s courtroom Wednesday afternoon in shackles to be advised of the charges, the penalties he could face, and his rights.
In seeking detention, Assistant U.S. Attorney Danielle Alfonzo Walsman said Aksal is a Turkish national whose entire family lives overseas.
While his website describes him as a managing director of a hospitality consulting business, Aksal gave conflicting accounts of his employment status, she said.
Kevin Carlucci, a federal public defender appointed to represent Aksal, said his client had been steadily employed but is currently unemployed. He added that his client has no prior record and owns property in North Bergen and Florida that could be posted as collateral for a bond.
The prosecutor, however, said it appears there is no equity in those properties, no job and nothing to keep Aksal in this country.
Falk adjourned the hearing until Monday to give Carlucci time to put together a suitable bail package.
If convicted of the sexual abuse charge, Aksal faces a maximum penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.
©2012 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)
Visit The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) at www.NorthJersey.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services