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Flight Takes Off With Wanted Man

October 5, 1999

MIAMI (AP) _ A man wanted for questioning by federal authorities looking into the alleged abuse of a 12-year-old Haitian girl got away after an American Airlines flight ignored an FBI request to remain on the ground.

Airline officials on Monday apologized for the incident, which they called ``an honest mistake.″

``We in no way meant to defy that request,″ airline spokesman John Hotard said.

The flight left Friday for Port-au-Prince.

Federal authorities wanted to question passenger Willy Pompee Sr., 43, who allegedly helped bring the girl, then 9, to the United States in 1996 to be a family servant.

Minutes before Pompee Sr. was scheduled to depart from Miami International Airport, Miami-Dade police called the U.S. Customs Service at the airport asking that he be detained, The Miami Herald reported today.

Detectives had seen Pompee’s name on a passenger list and mistook him for his son, Willy Pompee Jr., 20, who is accused of sexually abusing the girl and is named in a warrant.

The elder Pompee was removed from the plane, but was booked on another flight after detectives realized he wasn’t the son.

Seven minutes before the second flight was to depart, the FBI called Customs to stop him again. This time, it was not a case of mistaken identity; federal officials wanted to interview the father.

The plane, which had pulled away from the gate, proceeded to take off despite orders from Customs investigators to return to the gate.

Hotard said a dispatcher thought the second order to stop the flight was a mistake, and cleared the plane to takeoff.

Michael Sheehan, a Customs spokesman, said the agency is investigating whether fines should be issued to American Airlines for defying the law enforcement request.

``We feel they were appropriately notified,″ said Sheehan. ``We have to give them permission to depart, and we had rescinded that permission.″

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