Man pleads to lesser charge for fondling woman during flight
PITTSBURGH (AP) — A Pennsylvania man who fondled a sleeping woman during a flight from Las Vegas pleaded guilty Monday to a federal assault offense that carries a lighter sentence than his original charge.
Wei-Ming Shi, 59, of Mount Lebanon, pleaded guilty to simple assault on an aircraft during flight and has agreed to a $5,000 fine. A federal judge in Pittsburgh also can impose up to six months in jail and probation when Shi is sentenced March 16.
The original, most serious charge of unlawful sexual contact could have put him behind bars for up to three years. That charge alleged the woman was sleeping and therefore was unable to consent. A second count alleged the woman simply didn’t consent to being touched. It carries up to two years in prison.
Shi’s attorney told the judge the incident stemmed from “flirting” between Shi and the 20-something victim who sat next to him aboard the Southwest Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Pittsburgh on Aug. 18, 2016. A prosecutor disputed that account.
“There’s more to this, judge, that we’ll talk about at sentencing,” defense attorney Patrick Thomassey said after U.S. District Judge John Walton called Shi’s actions “repulsive behavior.”
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Kaufman said the victim “doesn’t agree with that at all. She was not flirting by any means.”
Kaufman said the woman was merely “friendly” toward Shi before she fell asleep then woke up once the defendant reached under her dress to touch her thigh, buttocks and lower back.
The woman plans to fly back from Arizona to address the court when Shi is sentenced, Kaufman said.