NEWARK, N.J. – A New Jersey airport security supervisor accused of using a murdered man's identity to hide his illegal immigrant status apparently bought the man's birth certificate and Social Security number from an intermediary before his death, police said Wednesday.
Police don't consider Bimbo Olumuyiwa Oyewole a suspect in the unsolved murder of Jerry Thomas, who was shot outside a Queens, N.Y., YMCA in 1992. But they shed some light on how the 55-year-old Nigerian allegedly assumed Thomas' identity and went on to work for 20 years as a guard and then a supervisor for a private security firm at Newark Liberty International Airport.
New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said investigators believe Thomas sold his identification documents to a Nigerian cab driver, who then sold them to Oyewole. Authorities have said Oyewole began using his new identity about three weeks before Thomas was shot on July 20, 1992.
Oyewole pleaded not guilty in Newark municipal court Tuesday to an identity theft charge that carries a 10-year maximum prison sentence. He also faces deportation.
The revelation that Oyewole had access to highly sensitive areas of the airport reverberated all the way to Washington, D.C., Wednesday where the House Homeland Security Committee held a previously scheduled oversight hearing on airport security breaches and grilled officials from the Transportation Security Administration, the agency charged with securing the nation's airports.
In an audit by the TSA's Office of Inspector General published Monday, coincidentally the day Oyewole was arrested, investigators found an example of an airport worker who held security badges for three airports — each with a different birthplace listed.
John Sammon, assistant administrator for the TSA's Office of Security Policy and Industry Engagement, told lawmakers that the agency has been working on new rules that will increase identification and criminal history checks, but that even those might not have been able to detect a case like Oyewole's.
"Right now the system still has gaps, and that's what this rulemaking is for," Sammon said.
Oyewole was not hired by the TSA, which was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The private security firm that employed him most recently, FJC Security Services, is overseen by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the New York area's three major airports.
Port Authority officials said they planned to meet with FJC officials to discuss re-screening employees on a regular basis.
Oyewole's ability to take Jerry Thomas' identity and obtain a job with a high security clearance suggests that the Social Security Administration was never notified of Thomas' death. Had it been, anyone using his Social Security number likely would have been discovered.
Notification is usually made by a family member and sometimes by a funeral home, according to Kevin Barrows, a former FBI agent specializing in identity fraud who now conducts corporate fraud investigations for a private company. It is generally not the responsibility of law enforcement, he said.
"Typically there's someone, usually a family member who's going to stand to gain the Social Security benefits from the deceased, so they'll have an incentive to report it," Barrows said. "Where it falls through the cracks is if you're a loner and you have no wife, or no one who has that responsibility."
That description appears to fit Thomas, who has been characterized by authorities as a drifter with few known ties at the time of his death.
Associated Press writer Tom Hays in New York contributed to this story.