Man Accused of Leaving Bomb Threat on Airplane Pleads Innocent

HOUSTON (AP) -- A man accused of leaving a bomb threat on a gum wrapper aboard a Southwest Airlines plane earlier this month told a federal judge Friday he is innocent of the charges against him.

Elias Jeremiah Cervantez, a slight young man who wears glasses, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Calvin Botley, who ordered Cervantez to find a job and continue living with his parents in Odessa until the case is resolved. Botley set the case for trial in Houston on Oct. 17.

Cervantez, who is free on $20,000 bond, said little during the Friday's brief hearing, during which he was appointed an attorney. That attorney, Paul Bray, declined to comment, as did Cervantez.

Prosecutor Abe Martinez said the two charges against Cervantez - one for perpetrating a hoax aboard the plane and another for interfering with the flight crew - is no laughing matter.

''Any threats, whether meant in jest or truthfully, are taken very seriously and this is a case where Southwest Airlines went to a great extent to protect its passengers based on what it thought was a real threat,'' Martinez said.

The note was found near the seat of a passenger who was flying from Dallas to Houston on Aug. 5. She was on the same plane that Cervantez had taken earlier that day from Dallas to Midland.

The passenger, who found the note reading: ''Theres (sic) a bomb on the plane!'' notified a flight attendant, who then informed the plane's captain. The plane was ordered to land at Houston's Hobby Airport, which was temporarily shut down as the plane was searched.

One of the plane's flight attendants recalled Cervantez and another passenger who were sitting near where the note was found. According to an FBI affidavit, the two were ''giggling and messing with each other.''

Cervantez later confessed he wrote the note on a gum wrapper, according to the affidavit.

The intimidation charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, while the false information or hoax charge is punishable by up to five years.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press