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By Robert Frank, Scott Zamost, Hannah Kliot and Jasmine Wu, CNBC
Before he boarded a JetSmarter flight in Las Vegas, Maurice Paola was a little-known DJ and music producer. Now, he’s a symbol of private-jet air rage and screening procedures at the flying service start-up.
Paola was one of several passengers on the flight headed to White Plains, New York, on Sept. 3. About 45 minutes into the flight, according to a criminal complaint and other people on the plane, Paola started screaming and threatening the other passengers.
As part of an investigation into customer complaints and lawsuits filed against JetSmarter, CNBC obtained an exclusive video of the flight. Taken by another passenger, the video shows Paola cursing and threatening to decapitate people who tried to stop him. He shouted: “Heads will be chopped off. Heads will be chopped off.”
He also screamed, “I’m a sick f—. I was just in a psych hospital. You have no idea.”
Paola then threatened other passengers in the small cabin of the Gulfstream IV, saying he would “kill them and their children,” referring to a family on board that had a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old in the seats behind him, according to the federal criminal complaint.
One of the pilots tried to calm Paola and restrain him, but Paola became more agitated, screaming, banging his head on the walls and throwing cups and other items at passengers, according to the complaint.
The pilot went back to the cabin to divert the plane to nearby North Platte, Nebraska, where he could have Paola removed from the plane. The flight attendant armed herself with an oxygen bottle and the crew barricaded themselves in the cockpit while declaring an emergency.
When the plane landed, local law enforcement boarded the plane and took Paola down with a stun gun. He was arrested and charged with making terroristic threats, according to court records. A judge found him “mentally incompetent and unable to stand trial,” and ordered him held for mental health treatment.
CNBC could not locate him for comment.
In a statement, JetSmarter said that all of its safety and security protocols were followed and that “as soon as Mr. Paola exhibited signs of inappropriate behavior, the flight operator made the decision to ground the plane.”
Yet according to other passengers on the flight, there was no security or passenger check on the flight before it took off. And just before the flight there was a red flag that Paola might have been dangerous. Three days before the flight, he tweeted: “From a jail cell to the private jet, lmao they can’t stop @ me.”
And the day of the flight he tweeted “Possessed man, get out my way.”
Passengers say they are grateful that Paola wasn’t carrying a weapon since there was no passenger or security screening before the flight. After the police boarded the plane in North Platte, they searched Paola’s luggage and found 45 grams of marijuana and $13,250 in cash, according to the criminal complaint.
JetSmarter said it has “the most rigorous security standards in private aviation, including background checks on the majority of customers before they fly and on-the-ground security teams that screen for narcotics, explosives, cash and weapons for shared flights.” It added that “safety and security have been and will always be our number one priority.”