FARGO, N.D. – A former flight attendant who fled the U.S. nearly three years ago after he was accused of setting fire to an airplane bathroom has been returned to the country and now faces two charges instead of one.
Eder Rojas, 22, formerly of Woodbury, Minn., pleaded not guilty in federal court in North Dakota on Thursday to a charge of failure to appear. Rojas had been a fugitive since September 2008, when he missed a hearing on a charge of destruction of aircraft or facility.
Authorities said Rojas used a lighter to set fire to paper towels in the plane's bathroom because he was upset about having to work the route from Minneapolis to Regina, Saskatchewan. No injuries were reported.
The case is being tried in federal court in North Dakota because the May 2008 Compass Airlines flight made an emergency landing in Fargo.
Rojas was arrested on March 26 in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico. Federal marshals returned him to the U.S. on Wednesday.
"The extradition of Eder Haron Rojas from Mexico to the United States is the result of truly outstanding work by the U.S. Marshals Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation here in North Dakota," U.S. Attorney Timothy Purdon said Thursday in a statement to The Associated Press.
Rojas was ordered held until a detention hearing set for Wednesday. Prosecutors said they would argue to keep him in jail.
The original charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. The failure to appear charge has a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Prosecutors had argued in June 2008 that Rojas be held before trial. They said the seriousness of the case showed Rojas was a dangerous person and that they thought he was a greater flight risk because he's a Mexican citizen.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Klein released Rojas to his father living in Chicago with several conditions, including that he have weekly contact with a pretrial services officer, give up his passport and not board any airline.
Prosecutors have said that about five weeks before the Compass flight, Rojas was aboard another flight that was forced to make an emergency landing in Wisconsin because of a bathroom fire. Rojas helped put out the fire, as he did on Compass flight, prosecutors said.
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