Ryan Manuella, 30, of Erie County, “moved to a vacant center seat next to a female passenger, who was sitting in a window seat” on the April 16, 2021 flight, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger said.
Manuella, who didn't know the woman, then "touched the passenger without her consent," Sellinger said.
"The victim then yelled at him and left the row of seats," the U.S. attorney said.
Defense attorney Andrew Olesnycky said it was "a tragic case in which Mr. Manuella was suffering from a mental health condition at the time of the offense and was flying home to seek assistance from family members.
"His behavior and interactions with other passengers was influenced by medical issues that are beyond his control," the lawyer said. "He is extremely sorry for the harm to the victim and expressed his genuine remorse at sentencing."
Manuella had a history, having been charged in Nevada with a domestic violence assault in 2020, records show.
The Cheektowaga resident also got into a struggle in 2017 with a private security guard who later died of a heart attack during at an event in Lancaster, NY, authorities said. Police determined that the attack wasn’t related to the scuffle and charged Manuella with harassment, records show.
Manuella this time took a deal from the government rather than risk the potential outcome of a trial for his behavior on the flight from Colorado to Newark Liberty International Airport.
He pleaded guilty this past June to assault with intent to commit another felony -- namely, stalking while on an airplane.
Maneualla will have to serve all of his sentence because there's no parole in the federal prison system.
U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton also sentenced him to three years of supervised release.
Sellinger credited special agents of the FBI and officers of the Port Authority Police Department with the investigation leading to the plea and sentencing, secured by Assistant U.S. Attorneys DeNae M. Thomas and Katherine M. Romano of his Health Care Fraud Unit in Newark.
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