One man collected at least $300,000 from various airlines over the course of five years by repeatedly claiming they lost his luggage, federal prosecutors said.
Now he’s facing prison time.
Pernell Anthony Jones Jr. pleaded guilty to fraud charges in the Eastern District of Louisiana on Nov. 23, court documents show. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Jones faces up to 20 years in prison on each count and $250,000 in fines when he’s sentenced on Feb. 24.
A defense attorney representing the 31-year-old did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ request for comment.
Jones is from Kenner, Louisiana, home to the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.
Prosecutors said the scam lasted from 2015 to 2020. During that time, Jones is accused of using fake IDs to book flights and file claims for reimbursement, often instructing airlines to send checks to his friends’ addresses instead of his own. According to the government, Jones filed at least 180 fraudulent claims for lost baggage — seeking more than $550,000 in reimbursement checks.
At least five airlines were targeted: American, Alaska, Southwest, United and JetBlue.
A representative with American told McClatchy News in a statement on Wednesday, Nov. 24, that they are “pleased the DOJ is pursuing this matter.” A spokesperson for Southwest declined to comment, and representatives from the remaining airlines did not immediately return a request for comment.
Claim with American for $3,875
According to documents filed with his plea agreement, Jones was caught in March 2020 trying to pick up a reimbursement check for lost luggage from the New Orleans airport. The claim was related to an American Airlines flight he reportedly took in November 2019 to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.
Prosecutors said Jones purchased the flight with a prepaid gift card, bought his bag at the airport and went through security with a fake ID. When he arrived at DFW, Jones reportedly told airport personnel the airline had lost his bag and he filed a claim for $3,875 in losses.
The claim took most of December and January to process as Jones — posing as the person on his fake ID — went back and forth with American employees, according to court documents.
American Airlines Corporate Security Investigators were suspicious, prosecutors said, because the claim mirrored other fraudulent reimbursement requests for lost baggage. American then contacted the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, which helped the airline coordinate with Jones to pick up his check at the airport instead of sending it via mail.
Jones was arrested while he was filling out a baggage settlement check release form, the government said.
When deputies searched the home Jones shared with his aunt in Kenner, they reportedly found 34 fake driver’s licenses, 21 fake work IDs, 48 prepaid gift cards and security badges for American and Alaska Airlines with his picture on them.
Investigators said Jones went to extensive lengths to cover up the alleged fraud. He reportedly worked with an unnamed co-conspirator to file claims for lost baggage and instructed them to always say the value of the lost items was between $3,650 and $4,100, prosecutors said.
Tracked claims on a spreadsheet, feds say
In following up on the lost baggage claim, the government said, Jones generated fake phone numbers using an app on his cell phone and created bogus email accounts to match the names on the fake IDs he was using to pursue the claim.
He is accused of tracking numerous claims on a spreadsheet that showed the flights, names of the airlines, dates as well as departure and arrival cities.
Once it was time to mail the checks, prosecutors said, Jones gave the airlines his friends’ addresses to avoid suspicion.
According to court documents, investigators discovered Jones was arrested once before in 2018 after an X-ray machine at airport security revealed he was traveling with 47 credit cards under fake names and 36 fraudulent driver’s licenses.
Jones reportedly told the officers he had the cards “for the purpose of obtaining promotional discounts for flights.”
During the course of their investigation, the government said, they also intercepted a package for Jones from Hong Kong containing 22 counterfeit driver’s licenses.
Jones was charged by criminal information in September, court filings show. At his initial court appearance in October, Jones waived his right to an indictment and was released on a $50,000 bond.
He pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit mail fraud and one count of mail fraud.