SALT LAKE CITY — A sex offender with a stolen boarding pass got through airport security in Salt Lake City and checked in at a gate for a flight to California before he was caught earlier this month, authorities have disclosed.
Michael Salata, 61, was arrested on Nov. 5 after boarding the Southwest Airlines flight, according to jail records obtained Thursday.
He had grabbed a boarding pass that a woman accidently left at a check-in kiosk and used it to get through a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint, said Craig Vargo, chief of airport police.
“He tried to make it seem like it was a mistake, that the boarding pass printed incorrectly, or that he grabbed the wrong boarding pass,” Vargo told the Deseret News, a Salt Lake City newspaper that first reported the story.
It’s unclear why the incident was not disclosed by authorities until 20 days after it happened.
The news surfaced during one of the busiest travel times of the year and while the country is on alert after recent terror attacks abroad. President Barack Obama has sought to reassure Americans by saying authorities are equipped to prevent attacks in the U.S.
The day after the security breach in Utah, TSA officials in Washington announced enhanced security for certain inbound international flights in response to an explosion aboard a Russian passenger jet after takeoff from Egypt.
Salata was detained after the woman who had left the pass at the kiosk checked in using a replacement ticket that had been uploaded to her phone, Vargo said.
TSA spokeswoman Lori Dankers told the Deseret News that an agent made a mistake in identifying Salata, but the man was properly screened to determine if he was carrying anything dangerous.
“There are multiple layers of security in place,” Dankers said in an email to the newspaper. She declined to say whether anyone has been disciplined and did not immediately return calls Thursday from The Associated Press.
Southwest spokeswoman Brandy King says the airline relies on TSA to verify boarding passes and identification, and the airline’s systems worked properly by flagging a boarding pass that already had been scanned and identifying a passenger who didn’t belong on the flight.
It’s not clear why the boarding pass was taken from the check-in kiosk or why the person wanted to get on the flight.
Court records show Salata was cited twice by police for trespassing at the University of Utah in recent weeks — once before and once after the airport incident.
Salata was booked into the Salt Lake County jail on Nov. 6 on suspicion of felony fraudulent handling of a legal document as well as drug possession. Police reported finding marijuana in his pockets after he was handcuffed.
Salata was placed on the Utah sex offender registry in 2012, when he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor lewdness charge after being accused of exposing himself near a playground.
No lawyer was listed for Salata in court records involving the current case and phone numbers for him had been disconnected.