A former Chatham assistant harbor master faces up to eight years in prison and $250,000 in fines for allegedly telling airport and state security personnel he was armed and an agent of the Department of Homeland Security when he boarded two flights between Boston and San Diego in January 2007.
By filling out some paperwork and showing his assistant harbor master’s badge, Stephen Grant, 48, of Rockland, was able to bypass normal security. He was shown into the cockpit on one flight, and learned the identity of the U.S. air marshals and others on board permitted to carry a weapon, including the flight captain, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Boston Monday by Michael Ryan, a criminal investigator with the federal Transportation Security Administration.
On Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office indicted Grant in Boston on charges of impersonating a federal agent and making false statements. He was released on $50,000 unsecured bond and is due back in U.S. District Court on Dec. 12.
Grant said in an interview that he did nothing wrong. Grant said he simply wasn’t paying close enough attention to the documents he was asked to complete and to the answers he gave.
“I filled out paperwork I thought I had to fill out,” he said. “This thing got out of control.”
Grant works as the local sales director for a national biotechnology medical equipment sales company. He was a part-time, mostly seasonal employee of the Chatham harbor master’s office working as a harbor patrol boat operator and assistant harbor master in 2005 and 2006. His personnel records indicate he was terminated in the spring of 2007.
Chatham Harbor Master Stuart Smith said yesterday he had been interviewed by federal agents and was asked not comment on the case. He denied a Times’ request to photograph an assistant harbor master’s badge.
The case took almost two years to come to light so federal authorities could tighten airport security, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office told The Associated Press yesterday.
“The flying public can be assured that additional layers of security have been added to the process to be sure that only those with proper identification and legitimate credentials and paperwork are permitted beyond the security checkpoint,” TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis said.
Davis said she couldn’t make further comment on the case.
In his affidavit, Ryan reviewed information provided by other TSA agents, police, and ticket agents, flight attendants and pilots for American Airlines.
When Grant applied to Rockland police for a gun permit in October 2006, he listed “Homeland Security” as his occupation and wore a shirt with a Department of Homeland Security logo on it for his license photo, Ryan said. Grant allegedly also listed “Homeland Security” on the form he filled out to purchase a handgun just 10 days before the Jan. 1, 2007, flight to San Diego.
Although Grant did serve as a volunteer on the Cape and Islands Homeland Security Subcommittee in 2006, Ryan said he was never a DHS employee and had never been issued any credentials, insignia, clothing, etc., by that department. The subcommittee is sponsored by the Coast Guard and consists of volunteers involved in marine safety jobs on the Cape and Islands, according to court documents.
American Airlines ticket agents who issued Grant a boarding pass in Boston said he filled out a “flying-while-armed” form the airline uses to comply with federal regulations to identify those carrying weapons on a flight. The agents were unclear on why they gave him the form but told investigators they would never do so without seeing a badge and being told by the person that he or she was armed.
On that form, Grant allegedly listed “DHS (Port Security)” under “agency name.”
A state trooper then met Grant at a special gate, inspected his Chatham assistant harbor master badge and allowed him to bypass normal security into the boarding area. When he boarded, a flight attendant identified the two air marshals who were also traveling armed on the plane, and told him the captain was armed, according to court documents.
When boarding his return flight four days later, the same flight attendant asked him twice whether he was carrying a firearm, and Grant allegedly said yes both times. He then was escorted into the cockpit and introduced to Capt. Edwin Roberts Jr., who was suspicious when Grant did not have the required “flying-while-armed” paperwork, according to court documents.
Grant allegedly answered “they didn’t always need paperwork” and told Roberts he was a harbor master and that he worked for the Massachusetts State Police. Airline personnel subsequently filled out the necessary paperwork for Grant, and he boarded the flight. But security officials were suspicious enough that they nearly asked the captain to do an emergency landing. State police met Grant at Logan International Airport when his flight landed.
Grant said yesterday that he thought he had settled the case a year ago when he paid a $4,000 fine. Grant said he had been given paperwork by the TSA that promised no further prosecution.
“What they are claiming are the same things we settled on,” he said.
Grant said that Ryan’s affidavit does not paint an accurate picture.
“There are some inconsistencies in it,” he said.
In his own affidavit, Grant said he handed the ticket agent his identification case in Boston that contained his harbor master badge. He said the agent then gave him a flying-while-armed form and told him to stand by the special gate. Grant said he understood the form to mean he “could” be armed.
“I had no plan in mind. I wasn’t testing the system. I made an honest mistake and it snowballed,” he said.
Grant said he was unarmed on both flights, but, on advice of his attorney, wouldn’t comment further.
Since the incident, Grant said, neither American Airlines nor government security agents had restricted him from flying, and he said that he traveled often on business.