TSA Screeners at LAX Arrested on Federal
April 25 (Los Angeles) - The DEA today announced that two former and two current Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) have been arrested on federal narcotics trafficking and bribery charges for allegedly taking cash payments to allow large shipments of cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana to pass through the X-ray machines at TSA security checkpoints.
In addition to the current and former TSA officials, one drug courier is currently in state custody, and another drug courier is expected to surrender tomorrow. Authorities are continuing to search for another alleged drug courier named in a 22-count grand jury indictment that was unsealed this morning.
The indictment outlines five specific incidents in which current and former TSA employees took payments of as much as $2,400 to allow suitcases filled with drugs to pass through X-ray machines while TSA screeners looked the other way.
“This case underscores the unique nature of 21st century drug smuggling,” according to Briane M. Grey, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the DEA in Los Angeles. “Here, 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.”
“Airport screeners act as a vital checkpoint for homeland security, and air travelers should believe in the fundamental integrity of security systems at our nation’s airports,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “The allegations in this case describe a significant breakdown of the screening system through the conduct of individuals who placed greed above the nation’s security needs.”
The indictment names the following individuals:
All of the defendants who were arrested last night and this morning are expected to be arraigned on the indictment this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles. If they are convicted of the charges in the indictment, the current and former TSA officials each face stiff mandatory minimum penalties, and each would face a potential sentence of life imprisonment.
The indictment outlines five separate incidents in which the TSA officials conspired with either drug couriers or an undercover operative working with the Drug Enforcement Administration to smuggle narcotics through security checkpoints at LAX.
These incidents occurred from early February 2011 and continued until early July 2011, according to the indictment.
In one incident, Richardson and White allegedly agreed that Eleby would bring about five kilograms of cocaine through a security checkpoint that was being staffed by White. But when Eleby failed to follow White’s instructions and went to the wrong security checkpoint, TSA officials uninvolved in the scheme seized Eleby’s bag, which was filled with cocaine. In the final incident outlined in the indictment, Richardson and Whitfield allegedly conspired with the DEA’s “confidential source” to allow about eight pounds of methamphetamine to pass through a security checkpoint that was being staffed by Whitfield. After the methamphetamine went through security, Whitfield met the confidential source in an LAX restroom to receive $600 in cash, which was the second half of the agreed-upon $1,200 fee for that pass through.
“TSA has assured the investigating agencies we will do everything we can to assist in their investigation,” said Randy Parsons, TSA Federal Security Director at LAX. “While these arrests are a disappointment, TSA is committed to holding our employees to the highest standards.”
The investigation in this case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), which worked in conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration, the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, the Los Angeles International Airport Narcotics Task Force, and the Los Angeles Airport Police.