NEWARK, N.J. — A lovesick graduate student from China who slipped under a rope barrier at Newark Liberty International Airport to say goodbye to his girlfriend, prompting a security breach and leading to worldwide flight delays, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge Tuesday and apologized publicly for the first time.
"I want to deeply apologize to those (affected) for my breach," Haisong Jiang said outside of court. "I just wanted to spend more time with my girlfriend. I made a big mistake, and I also learned a big lesson."
Jiang, a 28-year-old doctoral student in a joint molecular biosciences program at Rutgers University, admitted to a municipal judge that he passed under a rope and entered a restricted area at the airport Jan. 3 to spend about 20 extra minutes with his girlfriend, who was leaving for California after visiting him in New Jersey.
As part of a plea agreement for the defiant trespassing charge, Jiang agreed to pay a $500 fine, plus additional court costs, and perform 100 hours of community service.
Will remain at Rutgers
Outside of court, Jiang spoke quietly in halting English, addressing his apology to airport personnel, Transportation Security Administration officials and passengers affected by the delays. He also thanked Chinese consular officials, his lawyers and his friends for their support during the past few months.
His attorney, Eric Bruce, said the misdemeanor charge would not affect Jiang's immigration status, and he would remain at Rutgers on a student visa. Bruce said Jiang was due to graduate in the spring and was part of a research team searching for a cure for glaucoma.
Jiang was arrested Jan. 8, days after authorities identified him from airport surveillance video that showed a man stepping under a security rope and entering a restricted area of the airport after a guard stepped away from his post.
The breach led TSA to shut down one of the airport's three terminals for six hours, stranding thousands of passengers and contributing to long delays. About 200 flights worldwide were delayed or canceled because of the security breach. Airlines estimate they lost millions of dollars as the terminal was emptied and passengers were rescreened.
The incident outraged several lawmakers, including New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg, who has introduced legislation that would create a federal civil penalty of up to $10,000 for intentionally breaching airport security and a criminal penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
Assemblywoman Grace Spencer, who represents the district that includes Newark airport, has introduced similar legislation at the state level.
"We live post-9/11, and we can't take for granted the security we have," Spencer said outside court following Tuesday's hearing. "At this point we need to make sure that actions like this do not allow other people who have criminal intent to get through and cause us harm and danger."
Bruce described Jiang as a painfully shy, lovesick man who made a mistake. Jiang and his girlfriend were "still together and still very much in love," his lawyer said.
"The bottom line in this case is that the consequences of Mr. Jiang's actions on Jan. 3rd were very serious — we recognize that," Bruce said. "Today's resolution will allow something good to come out of this and allow Mr. Jiang to get back to his studies and get on with his life."
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