A 58-year-old Indian man has been charged with sexually assaulting a woman who was sitting next to him on a flight from Los Angeles to New Jersey.
Veerabhadrarao Kunam, a resident of Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, is charged by the complaint with one count of abusive sexual contact.
He appeared before US magistrate judge Joseph Dickson on Tuesday in Newark federal court and was released on a $50,000 secured bond.
The charge carries a maximum potential penalty of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Kunam was arrested on July 30 when his flight arrived at Newark and was taken into federal custody by the FBI.
According to the complaint, Kunam was seated next to a woman who occupied a middle seat on a flight from Los Angeles to Newark.
While the plane was in the air, the woman fell asleep and woke up to find Kunam sexually touching her.
The victim then alerted her male travel companion who traded seats with her and confronted Kunam.
The accused allegedly told the victim’s travel companion that he wanted everyone to forget about the incident and offered to buy the travel companion a drink for any trouble he may have caused.
The travel companion declined Kunam’s offer and alerted a flight crew member about the incident.
A member of the flight crew then moved Kunam to another seat and instructed him not to return to his original seat.
He allegedly told the flight crew member that he would not touch the victim again.
The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over all sexual abuse cases that occur on aircraft in flight in the United States.
A spokesperson for the airline said in a statement that the plane’s crew was “alerted to reports of a disruptive individual who was accused of inappropriately touching a fellow passenger”.
“Our crew are trained for such situations, and they immediately moved the individual in question to another seat, monitored him to ensure he did not move from his seat, and alerted law enforcement, who were waiting for the aircraft when it arrived at the New Jersey airport,” he said.