The U.S. attorney’s office in Nashville dropped a bomb at a federal district court hearing two weeks ago. During a time when some holiday travelers are concerned with security screeners touching their “junk,” it revealed an incident in which an employee of a private company stationed at Nashville International Airport gave his brother — who also happens to be a defendant in a multi-state child-sex-trafficking case — a tour of a secured area, including the inside of a cockpit.
It took a federal investigation into human sex trafficking in Minnesota, Tennessee and Ohio to shine light through a hole in security at Embraer Aircraft Maintenance Service Inc., a private tenant that repairs airplanes at BNA.
The revelation came in the District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee on Dec. 2, during the government’s appeal of a magistrate’s decision to release Abdifatah and Mohamed Omar from jail while they await trial on federal charges for their alleged roles in the sex trafficking of at least four juvenile females.
The Omars, as well as their brother, Liban Omar, are charged along with 26 other people allegedly involved with the Somali Outlaws, the Somali Mafia and the Lady Outlaws gangs.
The indictment, which was unsealed on Nov. 8, lays out charges against the alleged sex-trafficking ring including credit card fraud, auto theft, perjury and obstruction of justice that span the past 10 years and stretch across various states. They include the alleged enticement of a 12-year-old Somali girl to engage in sex acts as preparation to perform them for money later.
So how, exactly, does a person who has allegedly spent the last decade selling children for sex — or any non-employee, for that matter — wind up in the cockpit of a plane at Nashville’s airport?
Abdirahman Omar lives at the Village Hills Drive apartment where the government said defendants Fadumo Mohamed Farah, Abdifatah Bashir Jama and Mohamed Sharif Omar took a 13-year-old Somali girl from Minnesota and sold her for sex in December 2005.
The three allegedly sold Jane Doe One — as the girl is known in the indictment — for sex repeatedly over the next two and a half years in Minneapolis, Minn., Columbus, Ohio, and Nashville. Other underage girls were also sold for sex at the Village Hills Drive apartment that Farah rented at the time.
At a two-and-a-half-hour hearing on the afternoon of Dec. 2, Assistant U.S. Attorney Van Vincent called Abdirahman Omar to the witness stand in a dimly lit, cavernous federal courtroom on the eighth floor of the Estes Kefauver Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Nashville. The fourth, non-indicted, Omar brother had been offered up as a potential custodian for his brother, Abdifatah Omar, upon a potential pretrial release. The government had issues with that.
Abdirahman Omar’s responsibility as a custodian of his brothers would include reporting any rule violations, something the government claimed he didn’t do when he gave his brother, Liban, an after-hours tour of a restricted security area in the airplane hangar where he worked as an aircraft mechanic for Embraer, at 10 Airways Blvd. near Briley Parkway. Photos taken from Abdirahman Omar’s cell phone show him working on an airplane engine, with planes from AeroMexico and Delta parked in the hangar, while Liban sits in a cockpit clutching the control stick and looking over his shoulder at the camera.
It happened often at Embraer, Abdirahman Omar told attorney Vincent. Other employees regularly showed family members around the workplace, he said, at one point saying his BNA-issued security badge allowed him to escort others around his work area at Embraer. Omar later backtracked on that statement, saying that in fact only employees with escort privileges and a security badge marked with an “E” could do so.
When pressed by Vincent to name other employees who escorted family or friends through restricted areas “in violation of the rules,” the airplane mechanic answered, “I can’t remember.”
For Omar, it did happen often, at least in 2010. The photos on his phone bore multiple time and date stamps from February to May.
Embraer Human Resource Officer Steve Moldrem testified that the adventures of the brothers Omar clearly strayed from the company’s security regulations. Employees couldn’t show others around without an escort; they couldn’t take photos in restricted areas without permission from senior management; and they certainly couldn’t do it outside normal business hours of 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Or at least they weren’t supposed to.
Also, Moldrem said, he could find no indication of any Omar signed in as a guest at the facility.
“So did you report yourself for these rule violations?” Vincent asked Abdirahman Omar on the stand.
“You did report yourself?”
“No, I didn’t report myself.”
But “I will report everything,” Omar said later regarding his would-be custodial responsibilities. “If I see something, I will report to the authorities.”
At the end of the two-and-a-half-hour hearing, Judge William J. Haynes — who sat for most of the hearing behind the bench, reclined, facing the witness stand with one hand covering his forehead as if nursing a headache — took the matter under advisement. A decision on the appeal of the brothers’ release could come this week.
Meanwhile, Abdirahman Omar is out of a job as an airplane mechanic, and what, if any, changes in security procedures or penalties for Embraer may result is up in the air.
Elisa Donel, Embraer spokeswoman, said the company isn’t commenting on the matter but emailed the following statement to The City Paper: “In response to a recent report involving a breach of security and company policy at Embraer’s Nashville facility, Embraer took immediate action to ensure all company policies and security measures are in place and in full compliance.”
Jon Allen, regional spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, said the agency is cooperating with the law enforcement investigation and that the Aviation Transportation Security Act gives it the authority to “take action, including imposing civil penalties, when security procedures are violated.”
At this point in the Embraer incident, however, he said no action has been taken.
Emily Richard, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, said Embraer is responsible for its security, although the airport issues security badges to contractors and tenants such as Embraer to access airport areas including runways, taxiways, gates and the apron. Richard said the airport has opened an investigation into the Embraer incident, which could lead to sanctions such as revoking badges and privileges.
Trafficking investigation ongoing
The federal case against the 29 people allegedly involved in a child-sex ring remains in the opening rounds, sorting out the detention or release of those indicted.
Though much of the alleged trafficking took place in Minnesota and roughly two-thirds of those indicted are from there, U.S. attorneys decided to file the case in Tennessee.
“When a conspiracy, any conspiracy, occurs in various locations,” Vincent said, “the case can be brought in any of those locations. So one, that’s the law on it, and two, the Jane Does in the indictment were brought here to Nashville.”
So far, the only two women included in the indictment are also the only two people out on bond. Farah is in Nashville, and Bibi Ahmed Said, who was pregnant at the time of her arrest, is in Minnesota and scheduled to make her initial appearance in Nashville on Jan. 6.
Magistrates ordered seven others of the 29 — including Mohamed Omar and Abdifatah Omar — to be released on bond, but they each remain in custody while the government appeals their pretrial release.
Liban Sharif Omar, from the cockpit photo, is in a Davidson County jail. There’s also an order to turn him over to federal custody.
Abdikarim Osman Ali is no longer in the country, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And Abdigadir Ahmed Khalif is a fugitive. The others are in federal custody in Tennessee.