Columbia, South Carolina — A federal jury sitting in Asheville, North Carolina, has convicted Siva K. Durbesula, 28, of India, of abusive sexual contact aboard an airplane, in a jointly prosecuted case that began in the District of South Carolina and culminated in the Western District of North Carolina, announced Peter M. McCoy, Jr., U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina, and R. Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.
“Every person deserves to feel safe when they travel, and that someone would violate that safety through sexual assault is reprehensible. Those who engage in this type of behavior will be prosecuted,” said U.S. Attorney McCoy. “I applaud the courage of the witnesses in the case to step forward. I also appreciate the great work by U.S. Attorney Murray and his team to ensure the defendant’s conviction.”
According to filed court documents, witness testimony, and evidence presented at trial, Durbesula was a passenger aboard Spirit Airlines Flight NK843 from Chicago O’Hare to Myrtle Beach International Airport on June 23, 2019, when he sexually assaulted the 22-year-old woman seated next to him. Specifically, the victim testified that Durbesula repeatedly pulled her toward him and rubbed her breast. After the flight crew separated Durbesula from his victim, he asked to return to his former seat so he could speak to her again. Witnesses to the events aboard the airplane included the lead flight attendant and an unaccompanied minor sitting next to the victim.
The jury also heard from a previous victim of Durbesula. She testified that on March 21, 2019, aboard a subway train in New York City, Durbesula sat immediately next to her although there were empty seats throughout the train car. The previous victim, who was pregnant at the time, testified that shortly after he sat down, Durbesula began groping her breast. She was able to record cell phone video of Durbesula exiting the train after the assault, which was admitted at trial.
The case was a particularly challenging logistical feat, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally indicted in the District of South Carolina, the case was transferred to the Western District of North Carolina for trial after Durbesula agreed that the plane travelled over North Carolina and venue was appropriate in that state. Witnesses in the case came from North Carolina, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Illinois, Florida, and Arkansas to testify.
Durbesula is currently in custody. At sentencing, the charge carries a maximum sentence of two years in federal prison, and Durbesula faces deportation.
In making today’s announcement U.S. Attorneys McCoy and Murray thanked the Horry County Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for their work in investigating the case.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Don Gast, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of North Carolina in Asheville, and Derek A. Shoemake, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina in Florence, are prosecuting the case. Victim-Witness Coordinators Lynne Crout, with the Western District of North Carolina, and Clarissa Whaley, with the District of South Carolina, provided assistance for the two victims and witnesses across six states.
The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.