A man accused of undressing and fondling a Spirit Airlines passenger while she was asleep could spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Prabhu Ramamoorthy, 35, was convicted of sexual abuse on board an aircraft for digitally penetrating the victim, the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan said.
His sentencing date is set for December 12, and he could face up to life in prison. After finishing his sentence, Ramamoorthy — who is in the United States on a work visa — will be deported to his home country. The criminal complaint against Ramamoorthy did not specify his home country.
Attorneys for Ramamoorthy did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
The abuse happened in January during an overnight flight from Las Vegas to Detroit.
The 22-year-old woman said she fell asleep leaning against the window, the criminal complaint states. She woke up to a hand down her pants and noticed that her pants and her shirt were unbuttoned and the passenger next to her was fondling her, the court filing says.
The passenger stopped when she woke up, and she immediately told a flight attendant what happened, the complaint states.
Ramamoorthy was taken into custody when the flight landed. He said in a written statement that he was in “deep sleep,” the complaint states. He also said the woman fell asleep on his knees and he is “not sure where [he] kept the hand on her.”
“Through my knowledge I didn’t [sic] anything to her,” Ramamoorthy said, according to the complaint.
In an interview with an FBI agent, Ramamoorthy said he “might have” undone the woman’s bra while playing with it, and that he had cupped her breasts over her clothes, the complaint states. He indicated he unzipped her pants partway and put his finger into her pants and tried to fondle her, the court filing says.
A federal jury deliberated for less than four hours before reaching a guilty verdict Thursday. Afterward, US Attorney Matthew Schneider praised the victim for speaking out about the abuse.
“Everyone has the right to be secure and safe when they travel on airplanes,” Schneider said.
“We will not tolerate the behavior of anyone who takes advantage of victims who are in a vulnerable position, and we are glad the jury agreed. We appreciate the victim in this case for her courage to speak out.”
This case is one example of what some women have said is a hidden reality of commercial air travel. Though it’s difficult to track how frequently assaults occur on flights, FBI investigations into midair sexual assaults have increased by 66% from fiscal year 2014 to 2017.