tampabay.com

TIA finds cutter hidden in book

The Clearwater man pleads guilty, saying he had forgotten about the box cutter.

By Steve Huettel, Times Staff Writer
Published February 20, 2008


The X-ray image of a box cutter inside Benjamin Baines Jr.'s backpack caught the attention of federal officers Sunday morning at Tampa International Airport.

But it was the packaging that really jolted them: a hollowed-out book that hid the razor-sharp tool. Also inside the backpack: a Koran, a Holy Bible and rap music lyrics referencing police, drugs and guns.

Baines, 21, of Clearwater told investigators he forgot the box cutter was inside the copy of Fear Itself when he packed his bag for a trip to Las Vegas, states a report by Tampa International Airport police.

He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, a misdemeanor. He pleaded guilty Monday in Hillsborough County court and received a 30-day jail sentence. The U.S. Attorney's Office is looking into the case but has not filed charges.

"What raises our concern is when an item is artfully concealed," said Christopher White, a spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration. "It's different than a box cutter inside a backpack."

Baines could also face a civil charge, with a fine up to $10,000, for carrying a prohibited item through a checkpoint.

Relatives say he's a good kid with no previous criminal record.

Baines came to Pinellas two years ago after a semester at Indiana University. He wrote rap music for an uncle's production company and worked in the purchasing department at the Sandpearl Resort on Clearwater Beach, said Ethean Butler, another uncle.

Baines studies various religions, say relatives. They insist he's no terrorist. "He's not militant," said James Layne, a 28-year-old cousin. "He's not a crazy blow-yourself-up kind of guy. It's all a major misunderstanding."

Butler said his nephew forgot the box cutter, which he used at his former job at the Sandpearl, was in the backpack. He recalls his nephew packing the book in a duffle bag that was checked as luggage. The police report tells the story this way. On Sunday, Baines was scheduled to fly Southwest Airlines Flight 338 to Jacksonville at 7:45 a.m., then catch another plane to Las Vegas, where his father lives. He reached security screening at Airside C at 7:30 a.m. An X-ray operator spotted the box cutter.

Another TSA officer found the tool inside a "compartment" within the book. Baines told officers he cut out the pages to keep marijuana and money from being stolen by roommates. Inside the backpack were the Koran and Bible and the books Muhammad in the Bible,The Noble Quran and The Prophet's Prayer.

The violent rap lyrics, Baines said, were his work. "He stated that rap music lyrics is all lies and that rap music writers have to play the part," the report states. A national records check found Baines had no criminal convictions.

At an initial hearing Monday, Hillsborough court records show, Baines pleaded guilty to the concealed weapons charge. He wasn't represented by an attorney, said Butler. TSA and airport officers charged him because "he was black and carrying the Koran," he said.

White of the TSA called the incident "a testimony to the vigilance our officers have every day in Tampa and across the country."

Terrorists in the Sept. 11 attacks reportedly used box cutters in at least one jet. Since then, airlines installed armored cockpit doors and imposed strict rules on opening them in flight.

Times staff writers Colleen Jenkins and Elena Lesley and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Staff writer Steve Huettel cam be reached at (813) 226-3384.