A New Jersey man appeared in federal court Wednesday after being charged with sex abuse for allegedly molesting a woman sleeping next to him on a plane from Phoenix to Newark, officials said.
Bawer Aksal, 48, a Turkish national with U.S. citizenship who lives in North Bergen, was arrested after the woman complained that he touched her breasts and genitals while she was sleeping beside him on the United Airlines flight, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday.
Aksal told law enforcement officers that he had touched the woman, but said she forced his hand into her lap, according to the complaint.
The two did not know each other, said officials at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark.
The woman, who fell asleep with a jacket across her legs, awoke to find Aksal's hands inside her shorts and shirt when he whispered to her, "Kiss me," officials said. The woman demanded the man get off her, according to the complaint, slammed down the armrest between them and reported the incident to flight personnel.
A passenger in the aisle seat, noticing the commotion, offered to help the woman, prosecutors said, and accompanied her to the back of the plane to alert the flight crew. The aisle passenger later told authorities that he had seen the woman, who appeared to be asleep and not moving, and saw the man's arm under a jacket the woman had draped across her legs.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Falk, who presided over the case Wednesday in Newark federal court, said he wanted to hold a more detailed hearing before setting bail for Aksal, who is a Turkish national with U.S. citizenship.
Aksal, who had close-cropped gray hair and wore a T-shirt and jeans while cuffed at the wrists and ankles, did not speak during his first court appearance. He was assigned a court-appointed attorney.
The sex abuse charge carries a potential sentence of life in prison and a $250,000 fine upon conviction.
Get the latest from NBC 4 New York anytime, anywhere. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Get our apps here and sign up for email newsletters here. Get breaking news delivered right to your phone -- just text NYBREAKING to 639710. For more info, text HELP. To end, text STOP. Message and data rates may apply.