United Airlines Real Life “Catch Me If You Can” Caught After 23 Years

In the 1970s it was much easier to take on a new identity than it is today. Assume the name of someone who died young and didn’t create much of a paper trail, and won’t be using it, Perhaps someone that didn’t get a social security number when they were born (it was much more common then). Get a copy of their birth certificate, apply for a social security card.

I knew someone that did this, and not the guy in Catch Me If You Can.

Now what’s far more common is to create a synthetic identity. However a man recently died who ‘did it right’ when he did wrong. He robbed a bank and then took on a new identity. He cut ties with his former life, never told anyone until his death bed, and didn’t draw undo attention to himself.

A United Airlines flight attendant, living under an assumed name, was recently caught. Airline cabin crew go through security checks, and this one applied and re-applied over the years for passports. That’s what did him in.

Ricardo Cesar Guedes was born in Brazil in 1972, but took on the name of William Ericson Ladd – born 1974 and who died in a car wreck at age 4 – and obtained a passport. He shorted his name to Eric Ladd. He became a United Airlines flight attendant and worked for the airline for 23 years. In the meantime he renewed his passport several times and obtained a U.S. residency permit for his partner since he was – of course – a ‘citizen’.

However when he sought to have his passport renewed in 2020 a fraud alert was triggered. Investigators tracked down his real identity and questioned the mother of the ‘real’ late Eric Ladd (that must have been a traumatic conversation for her). And since flight attendant Eric Ladd had to provide finger prints to become a United flight attendant, authorities were able to compare those to finger prints in Brazil.

Federal agents waited for him at the Known Crewmember checkpoint in Houston where he would be going to start a trip. And because he had gained access to that using a false identity, those were additional charges in addition to immigration-related ones. Side note: Texas Governor Abbott’s wall wouldn’t have kept him out.

Catch Me If You Can portrays Frank Abagnale, among other things, impersonating a Pan Am pilot. It’s far easier to impersonate a flight attendant, or at least impersonate someone who then gets hired and trained as a flight attendant. After more than two decades Eric Ladd probably thought he was in the clear. Life lesson: if you’re going to do this, stay away from government checks, don’t go into a career that requires them repeatedly.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. He did well, living a lie for 23 yrs. But that little Bible verse never lies. Be sure your Sin will find you out.

  2. “And available ONLY on today’s flight….a special bonus for applying for the Chase United Explorer Card…..please hand your completed application to a flight attendant…”

  3. A person who held a job, paid taxes, and lived a “lawful” life for 23 years.

    But broke the law by looking for a better life in the USA, finding a “shortcut”.

    Unlike Abagnale and his various fraudulent roles, Guedes did not pretend to be a flight attendant — he was one. He did the training, did the work, and did so for many years.

    Clearly, there should be a penalty… but to what extent?

  4. In 1972 we stopped people from walking in from Mexico as much as we could instead of the least amount possible. Even 23 years ago under Clinton we tried to stop illegal aliens from entry. I doubt this guy walked here from Brazil back then. Just goes to show how secure the background checks for flight crews are but then again we learned that on 9-11. I bet they won’t even deport this guy.

  5. I wonder what was different this time that he managed to trigger a fraud alert when he hadn’t many times before.

  6. @MissMarirose I suspect the Feds have connected to another system, to which the user names and ids are cross-referenced. Progress in the government is slow, but steady.

  7. @gary Thank you, Gary, for your “life-lessons”…I’ll make sure to follow them, next time I’ll pretend to be a flight attendant or a pilot 🙂

  8. Meanwhile, millions of unvetted, unvaccinated illegals pour across the border. At least, Mr. Guedes/Ladd lived a legitimate life and supported himself as a flight attendant instead of living off the government.

  9. this guy stole someone’s identity – which does happen frequently – in an era where digital identity matching didn’t exist but certainly does now, applied for a job that required passport renewals unlike some immigrants that enter but never leave the US, and fell because US passports now along w/ most of the world now use biometric data which is shared between countries.

    He played a risky game for more than 2 decades but technology increased the risk to a level that ultimately caught him.

    Whatever any of us thinks about US immigration policy is immaterial; there are multiple laws that were broken and none of us should be surprised if we get caught when breaking those laws.

    please let us know the data that you have that showed he fully and legally paid his taxes. Working even for a large corporation doesn’t mean you correctly pay taxes.

  10. Cheap shot with the wall mention. But Guedes was apparently vaccinated, spoke fluent English, didn’t jump on public assistance, paid taxes and didn’t set up family chain migration after arrival. Hopefully he even chanted “Lets go Brandon.”

  11. @Tim Dunn
    He would have had to pay his taxes. Taxes are deducted by the employer on a W2 prior to receiving your paycheck. He paid them regardless of whether he wanted to or not. He would have had to apply for a refund in the case of any deductions available.

  12. @Tim Dunn: one thing that has been consistent for decades is the IRS tracking those with W2 jobs to filed returns. Slim chance in hell he didn’t pay them and since he lasted 20+ years, he wouldn’t have put it all at risk for not paying the beloved thrives at the IRS. Yes, I know you right wing monsters prefer to paint them all as rapist, murderers, and drug dealers but frankly fewer of them are compared to a right winger with a semi-automatic in their possession.

  13. Most illegal immigrants, especially those not from Mexico, are stuck here in the US without the ability to enter/exit to visit others including home country. This guy did it by becoming a flight attendant. Any native born Americans visiting Brazil too often would raise a red flag like a single man visiting Thailand/Cambodia too often. But he has a cover. Even frequently renewing his passport was normal. Until he (1) got married to a foreigner, (2) sponsored the spouse to immigrate, (3) changed his last name to add the spouse’s, and (4) applied for a new passport probably without it being full of stamps. (Details in the criminal complaint.) Coming up on 7 years after Obergefell v. Hodges, this guy is still very out of the ordinary and triggered an investigation.

  14. The Brazilian identity itself may be just another red herring, crumbled signposts of civilization blending into an Ozymandian smoothie of strawberries slurried with markers of a defunct reality. Or it could be something different, I suppose.

  15. Ray,
    it is not right wing to accurately note that working for a company and even having taxes withheld does not mean that someone fully paid the taxes they were required to pay. We simply do not have that information and it is erroneous for anyone to suggest that he paid his taxes so should be ok to remain in the country.

    Further, the US has a very complex tax structure with taxes on many services and products so anyone that interacts with the US economy is bound to pay taxes including tourists on hotels, rental cars and whatever groceries or restaurants they use. Paying those taxes – or payroll taxes – does not equate to legal status and it certainly doesn’t wipe clean any crimes someone committed including to gain the ability to make that money. There are many illegal aliens that use stolen social security numbers and pay taxes in someone else’s name.

    Your employer withholds the amount of money based on information you provide based on your own tax status. It is not up to them to determine if you are paying the right taxes; that is up to you and the IRS to determine. There are plenty of people, legal and ilegal, that don’t pay taxes which they should pay and there are progressive left politicians that want to give the government more information so that they can go after those people that don’t pay their fare share. The “right” is opposed to those proposals.

  16. Catch me if you can part II.
    By the way, the Miami airport scene (where he was supposed to meet the girl in his convertible) was filmed at ONT, the old terminal in Ontario, Calif. They just added palm trees to make it look like Miami. I happened to be there that day trying to get a parking pass. They escorted me to the actors parking desk.

  17. “The Wall” wouldn’t have stopped this instance of illegal entry via identity fraud that it isn’t designed to stop, therefore “The Wall” isn’t needed to fight illegal entry via the southern border that it is designed to stop. #ThoughtLeader

  18. Surprising to took so long to find him.

    In the early 70’s, I was under 21 but wanted to go into bars.

    I looked in my state death records, and found the death certificate of a baby born from around 21 years before. I then ordered a copy of the birth certificate.

    I took the birth certificate to DMV and obtained a state non-driver ID card.

    At some point after that (I don’t remember how long but within a year or two), the FBI came knocking at the door of the friend’s house where I had the ID card mailed. Her father answered the door, looked at the picture of me that the agents showed, and said he didn’t recognize me.

    My (later acquired) understanding is that the dead baby birth certificate technique was a known method of hiding used by the Weathermen and other radical groups, and that the FBI had cross-referenced birth and death records to find situations where birth certificates had been issued for long dead people. When they found a match, they would then check for IDs issued to the long dead person.

    So in light of my experience, I have no idea why it took 20+ years.

  19. Perhaps the fiancée/spousal immigrant visa and/or spouses’ US residency permit application and trying to do a name change on a passport application could have been his doing-in.

    DSS at State sometimes gets lucky because of applicants’ inconsistencies, even when the applications aren’t just for passports. And sometimes they catch up by going back to look into birth certificates long ago used for a passport application but not used again as part of an application process for quite some time in between applications.

    There are still US citizens who don’t have SSNs and legitimately get US passports. This UA flight attendant wasn’t one of those. Rather he was able to manage to do what Americans, illegal immigrants and others have managed to do in the US for well over 200 years: hijack someone else’s identity and operate as an American under an assumed name.

  20. Um, literally a wall kept him out. Known Crew Member (KCM) is an access point through the secure area of an airport. How do they keep it secure? A wall, fencing, police, patrols, identity checks, metal detectors, etc. Are you advocating that we don’t put names on tickets, don’t check ID, don’t issue visas, don’t check for weapons or drugs? If it isn’t acceptable to usurp the law and security to fly from Moline to Midway, then it shouldn’t be any more acceptable to do it going from Syria, Guatemala, India, or anywhere else into our country. I’m interested in your response.

  21. Although, I agree there was some wrong doing, Mr. Guedes managed to keep a job, pay his dues on all levels. He wasn’t on any government handout nor was there any criminal mischief. Im sure this haunted him every time he passed through security.

    He at least made a living unlike some of US citizens who live on the government tit!

    My wish is that he gets a lessons learned and gets some mercy.

  22. Paragraph after the video: “He cut ties with his former life, never told anyone until his death bed, and didn’t draw undo [sic] attention to himself.”


  23. Funny how a nation of thieves ,scumbags, traitors and other abominations of history that did nothing but stealing the lands where they placed their mostly fat behinds on , talks about walls and keeping illegals out . Americans… most hated hypocrites in the world. Just reading the Nazi comments makes me vomit on your doomed nation.
    Greetings from France

  24. Since you have issues with walls, maybe we should get rid of all the walls. No more security at airports, no walls around the prisoners, maybe we even take down the fence around your house or take the front door off of your house. You don’t need that door to keep people out.

  25. Was the stupid wall comment necessary? Does everything have to be made political? Answer: NO!

  26. This reminds me that while doing family tree research a few years ago, I found a distant relative that died as a child, then mysteriously turned up alive again – same birth date for both. It’s possible it’s legitimately two different people, but I kind of doubt it. Might be kind of interesting to follow that one up.

  27. Your side note was as lame as ever. No one cares about your opinion as a journalist don’t forget

  28. Sounds like @Guy de Lattre de Tassigny is still pissed about that whole Ricky Bobby movie thing. Either that or the French India War. No wait maybe it was the Louisiana purchase 🙂

  29. So. He worked for 23 years. He used a dead persons identity. That hardly seems like catch me if you can. Im sure he was stressed every time he had to renew his passport. Some things should just be let go. He was a law abiding citizen for 23 years. Paying taxes. Shooting straight. One little flaw that seems no more severe than J walking. He stole the identity of a deceased person. Im sorry, but this is a victimless crime

  30. I can’t believe it took 23 years to find out this “false identity” -all those years the government renewed his pasdport, united for not thoroughly checking fingerprints, etc. What other “inefficiencies ” should we be alerted and truly concerned about, for the nation”s security?

  31. Oh Gary. Always, always, always, make sure to get your digs in. Direct them at half your readers so everyone on the planet knows you are all for baby killing, censorship and racism. Good on you for showing your hatred. Free rent in your head. I’m sure Governor Abbott is crying in his office over what you think. Be a little more humble and kind, Gary. It hurts less than you think. (Not as much as the jab, anyway.) Have a great day.

  32. Significant and informative article. Too bad you had to taint it with your political comment about “Abbot”s wall.

    An effective boarder control system will hinder illegal and sinister actors by by the thousands.

    Keep it clean next time.

  33. This same thing happened when an oregon liquor licensing employee tried to get a passport. He was a government employee and he had come from Belarus. He took the identity of a deceased Ohio toddler and lived in America for multiple decades. He was trying to get a passport when he was discovered as a fraud.

  34. @Ray – I’m not sure if Tim Dunn is a “right wing monster”, per se. But he is the mayor of a small town in Georgia.

    With regard to politics: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. When holes like DaninMCI & Jaybird continually post snarky & contemptuous right-leaning missives – this very thread is such an example – I’ll side with & defend the right to respond in kind with the opposing viewpoint.

    @Bill – “Since you have issues with walls, maybe we should get rid of all the walls.”

    Frankly, I think we should double down on the walls. We should have a wall on the northern border. If the right-leaning, conservative ilk feel ‘border security’ is paramount, I’m all for it. There is an international border to the north of the CONUS. That international border is arguably more permeable than the southern border (Canada has more liberal immigration policies than the U.S.)

    Let’s fortify the northern border with a wall.

    But it’s never been about ‘border security’ has it?

  35. And now we know that the author of the article is an uneducated liberal/LWNJ. No one ever said the wall would stop all illegal immigration. But it will stop a huge amount.

    Further, this article fails to address the glaringly obvious topic…Why didn’t the background check stop this? A terrorist could use this loop hole to gain access to the aircraft and to security portals that do not scrutinize the contents of baggage. This is a major issue and the author can’t see any of it. But they got their jab in regarding the wall. What a colossal failure of an article.

  36. For all you progressive liberals, he broke the law. Period. Send his ass back to Brazil. And Guy, not all conservative libertarians go around shooting their “semi-automatics”. Sometimes we shoot shotguns. And then sometimes we just shoot our load, on your face.

  37. Oh you really got the Governor on that side note haha. What a dumb remark, and naive.

  38. Totally unnecessary to bring the honorable Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the boarder wall into this. I’m reporting you, as your columns should be taken down.

  39. The comment about Greg Abbott and the wall totally discredited you and you work. You have narrowed your target audience by at least 50%. Next time try to be a professional, unbiased writer because you’re opinions separate the facts in this story from the truth. Maturity can be learned even though you don’t possess it!

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