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Deportation possible in security breach

| Thursday, Dec. 12, 2002, 12:00 p.m.

A German national who flashed a constable's badge to breach security at Pittsburgh International Airport now faces a federal charge that could have him deported if convicted.

Michael Kobold, 23, of Oakland, made an initial appearance Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate Robert J. Kauffman. Kobold appeared on a felony charge of having made a false statement to a U.S. Customs Service agent.

Allegheny County officials have charged Kobold with impersonating a public servant and unauthorized access to a restricted area. The charges likely will be dropped, now that the U.S. Attorney's Office is prosecuting, officials said.

U.S. Magistrate Robert J. Kauffman ordered that Kobold be released on $100,000 bond. Kauffman gave Kobold until 4 p.m. Friday to secure the bond, with $10,000 cash. Kobold relinquished his passport to U.S. Customs and cannot leave the area.

Kauffman scheduled Kobold's preliminary hearing in federal court for Dec. 23.

Kobold left the courtroom without commenting. His Downtown attorney, Stanton Levenson, said Kobold is "shocked and bewildered" by the incident. Kobold, who does not have U.S. citizenship, could face deportation if convicted, the attorney said.

Kobold showed a Pennsylvania State Constable's badge to a screener Sunday at Pittsburgh International Airport. Sunday. The screener waved Kobold through a checkpoint to the Airside Terminal, which is restricted to passengers with airline tickets and authorized personnel. The badge was given to Kobold by a friend, Constable William Deforte Jr., of Findlay Township.

Constables are police officers in some small communities, serving warrants and transporting prisoners.

U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan would not comment when asked whether Deforte or the airport screener would face charges. She said the investigation is continuing.

Deforte said Kobold went to the airport to ensure that his brother, Tim — who had been in drug treatment in California — would get on his plane to Germany without any distractions.

"I understand his excuse," Deforte said. "But he still should never have gotten into that terminal. The badge is just a piece of metal. The I.D. is what matters. If someone gave him a Steelers helmet, do you think anyone would let him into Heinz Field?"

A U.S. Customs agent approached Kobold at the gate and asked him for additional identification, according to a federal affidavit. Kobold said he lost his constable's identification and Pennsylvania driver's license during an arrest last week. He eventually produced a German driver's license. He also flashed a badge.

Deforte said he became friends with Kobold about a year ago after buying a watch from him. Kobold owns Precision Chronographs of Robinson Township.

Deforte said he gave Kobold the badge as an "honorable gift for a visitor to this country who has done some good things."

Kobold has impersonated a police officer once before, according to a university arrest report.

On Feb. 19, he arrived at the Kappa Alpha sorority house at Carnegie Mellon University in Oakland wearing a black ball cap with "POLICE" in white lettering, a campus arrest report said. He told a woman there he was a constable looking for "Serena."

The university police report did not indicate whether Kobold showed a badge.

Kobold told campus police that he was a "deputy constable in training," working for Deforte. He said he was trying to find his then-girlfriend, who usually hung out with Serena.

University police warned Kobold. After checking his background, police released him without filing charges, the report said.

Deforte said yesterday that Kobold's claim that he worked for him is "ridiculous."

Deforte, who has been a Findlay constable for six years, said he was unaware of the CMU incident.

"If I had known that, I would never have given him that badge," said Deforte.

Deforte said he gave Kobold the outdated badge Dec. 6 as a "memento." He said his gift-giving did not break any laws.

"Elvis Presley was given (an FBI) badge and I.D. (by President) Nixon," Deforte said. "Anyone can buy police badges at badge swaps. Michael broke the law, but I did not."

Allegheny County police Superintendent Ken Fulton agreed.

"We don't foresee filing any additional charges connected to the airport incident," Fulton said.

County police detectives said they plan to look further into the CMU incident to determine whether any charges are warranted.

Now that the U.S. Attorney's Office has charged Kobold, charges by county police likely will be withdrawn Monday at Kobold's preliminary hearing, Fulton said.

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