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A man is in federal custody today on charges he groped a fellow plane passenger while she was sleeping. The 61 year-old defendant, Ranchhodbhai Lakha, was on a Delta flight from Texas to Georgia, when he allegedly assaulted the 20 year-old passenger beside him.
CNN reports that the victim awoke to find Lakha touching her "below the waist." According to the federal indictment, she told him to stop, but Lakha responded, "Is that OK? You don't like that?" Reportedly, the woman said no and shifted her body to protect herself when Lakha touched her again. The passenger got up and reported the incident to the flight attendant.
According to the FBI, there may be other incidents related to Lakha, possibly in Alabama. Since the investigation is on-going, CNN reports the FBI asks anyone who also may have been a victim to contact the Bureau in Atlanta at 404-679-9000.
This is a particularly egregious form of sexual assault because of the circumstances. As U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said in a statement, "Many passengers let their guard down or even fall asleep in the closed, often crowded environment of an airplane, which makes this kind of sexual assault so deplorable."
A federal grand jury has indicted Lakha for charges including one count of assault, two counts of abusive sexual contact and one count of attempt to engage in a sexual act with someone who is physically incapable of declining participation or communicating unwillingness to engage in a sexual act. Federal law places the act of sexually abusing someone incapable of refusing on par with coercing a person into sexual relations with the use of a weapon or with threats.
The crime of sexual assault or abuse is often known as a state crime, but in this case, since it took place aboard an aircraft, it is a federal offence. This act is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Lakha is in custody and has a initial appearance before a U.S. magistrate tentatively set for October 25. He has not yet entered a plea.
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