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TSA screeners allegedly let drug-filled luggage through LAX for cash

Passengers wait in line for a security check at LAX

Four current and former Transportation Security Administration screeners have been arrested and face charges of taking bribes and looking the other way while suitcases filled with cocaine, methamphetamine or marijuana passed through X-ray machines at Los Angeles International Airport, federal authorities announced Wednesday.

The TSA screeners, who were arrested Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, allegedly received up to $2,400 in cash bribes in exchange for allowing large drug shipments to pass through checkpoints in what the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles called a “significant breakdown” of security.

In addition to the two current and two former screeners, prosecutors also indicted two alleged drug couriers and a third who allegedly tried to smuggle 11 pounds of cocaine but was nabbed when he went through the wrong security checkpoint.

The TSA employees “placed greed above the nation’s security needs,” Andre Birotte Jr., U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement.

The 40-page indictment outlines five alleged smuggling incidents over a six-month period last year. In one incident, screeners schemed to allow for about eight pounds of methamphetamine to pass through security, then went to an airport restroom where he was handed $600, the second half of the payment for that delivery, according to prosecutors.

Briane Grey, acting special agent in charge of the DEA in Los Angeles, said the scheme was particularly reprehensible because it took place at LAX. 

“The defendants traded on their positions at one the world’s most crucial airport security checkpoints, used their special access for criminal ends, and compromised the safety and security of their fellow citizens for their own profit,” he said in a statement. 

The indicted screeners are Naral Richardson, 30, and Joy White, 27, who were both fired by TSA last year; and John Whitfield, 23, and Capeline McKinney, 25, both currently employed as screeners. All four have been taken into custody, and face up to life in prison if convicted. 

The accused drug couriers are Duane Eleby, 28, who is expected to surrender, and Terry Cunningham and Stephen Bayliss, both 28, who are both at large. 

The TSA’s security director at LAX said the agency was assisting with the investigation. “While these arrests are a disappointment, TSA is committed to holding our employees to the highest standards,” Randy Parsons said in a statement.

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-- Victoria Kim

Photo: Passengers wait in line for a security check at LAX. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

 
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