Mohammad Jawad Ansari, 50, was caught touching the unknown woman by other passengers, then pretended to be asleep for the remainder of the flight.
Shortly after takeoff, the female passenger sitting next to Ansaro, who was wearing a dress, fell asleep. The armrest separating the pair was down.
According to the US attorney’s office, at some point during the flight to Los Angeles, Ansari placed his left hand on the victim’s right knee and, without the victim’s consent, moved his hand to her inner thigh.
The person sitting in the aisle seat next to the victim witnessed his hand touching the victim’s inner thigh.
The victim woke up, pushed Ansari’s hand away, left her seat, and informed a flight attendant about what had happened. The flight attendants observed Ansari during the remainder of the flight and believed he was pretending to sleep.
Ansari, from Diamond Bar, California, was found guilty after a four-day jury trial on 9 May 2023. He was sentenced on Thursday to 21 months in federal prison as well as the fine. He will also be required to register as a sex offender.
In the sentencing memorandum, prosecutors argued that the offence had caused “immediate and long-lasting harm” to the victim who, they said, “sobbed for the remainder of the flight”.
The US attorney’s office said the victim now struggles to fall asleep on flights for fear that she will be touched by strangers.
Ansari’s attorney, Caleb Mason, said that they plan to appeal his conviction, according to NBC News.