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Retired Firefighter Snuck into JFK to Give Pope Business Card: Court Papers

By Ben Fractenberg | September 28, 2015 7:42pm
 Former FDNY firefighter Chris Cannella was arrested after following a motorcade he thought was carrying Pope Francis into a restricted area at JFK Airport on Saturday, according to court papers.
Former FDNY firefighter Chris Cannella was arrested after following a motorcade he thought was carrying Pope Francis into a restricted area at JFK Airport on Saturday, according to court papers.
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Christopher Parypa/Shutterstock.com

QUEENS — A retired FDNY firefighter told investigators he “was trying to give the pope his business card” after he was arrested for following a motorcade into a restricted area at John F. Kennedy Airport Saturday, according to court papers.

Chris Cannella, 39, first followed a United Nations motorcade in his black Chevy Tahoe to JFK airport at about 6 p.m on Sept. 26, several hours after Pope Francis had already left for Philadelphia.

Cannella then flashed a “silver object” to a security guard and drove through the airport checkpoint, court documents read.

The retired firefighter managed to get within 20 yards of the president of Turkmenistan, who was being driven in the motorcade, the New York Daily News reported.

Cannella then left the airport, but returned at around 7:30 p.m. after following another U.N. motorcade.

This time he gave a guard his license and retired FDNY badge, and told the officer that the secret service had let him through before, according to court documents.

Cannella showed the guard a video on his phone of him driving through the previous checkpoint.

He arrested before he could cross the checkpoint a second time, according to court documents. Police allegedly found a 9-mm magazine with five hollow-point rounds in his truck, as well as a bag of marijuana and a joint in his cup holder.

Cannella was taken to an interrogation room in the airport where he proceeded to pull a chair apart, exposing some staples and then told a detective re-entering the room that “I can hurt you really bad with this,” court documents read.

He was charged with criminal impersonation, criminal mischief, unauthorized possession of ammunition, criminal trespass and unlawful possession of marijuana.

Cannella’s lawyer, Scott Bookstein, said he has never been arrested before and authorities were being “paranoid” because the pope and President Barack Obama had been in town.

“This is like a trespass case,” Bookstein said, adding that his client is not accused of threatening or injuring anyone.

He said Cannella retired from the FDNY because of an injury and has been living with his family in Suffolk County for 13 years.

The former firefighter was arraigned in Queens Criminal Court Monday and held on $500,000 bail. He is due back in court on Oct. 13.