A former Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security agent has been charged with stealing $300 in cash from a passenger’s purse during a routine security search at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in May.
The Los Angeles city attorney charged Pandra Benton, 45, Wednesday, October 12th, with one count of theft of property, said Frank Mateljan, city attorney spokesman.
Benton was arraigned at the Los Angeles County Superior Court Airport Courthouse Thursday, October 13th. She pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charge, Mateljan said.
If Benton is convicted of the charge she could face a maximum penalty of six months in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
Benton was working as a TSA agent at LAX when the alleged theft incident occurred at the airport’s Tom Bradley International Terminal in May, Mateljan said.
A passenger was reportedly going through the airport security screening process when her purse was selected for a random search after it had been scanned by an X-ray machine.
“Due to the nature of her trip the passenger was carrying a large amount of cash,” Mateljan said.
As Benton was conducting the random search of the purse, another TSA agent allegedly saw Benton take $300 in cash from the passenger’s purse, he said.
“A co-worker observed her taking the money out and putting it in her pocket,” Mateljan alleged.
The other TSA agent later reported the incident to a supervisor.
The passenger initially did not realize that any money was missing from her purse, but later returned to speak with police and advised them that she was missing money, Mateljan said.
The alleged theft incident was recorded on videotape, which has been booked into evidence for trial.
Mateljan said Benton, who had worked as a TSA agent since September 2002, was reportedly questioned by TSA investigators within a week of the May incident.
She allegedly confessed to a TSA investigator regarding the incident and was terminated as a TSA employee, Mateljan said.
Nico Melendez, TSA spokesman, said the agency has a “zero tolerance policy for theft.”
In order to help prevent potential thefts during the airport security screening process, TSA officials encourage passengers to “keep their valuables with them,” Melendez said.
The TSA has a security screening workforce of about 55,000 at airports nationwide, and only 75 screeners have reportedly been arrested for theft, Melendez said.
“We have a very honest workforce that works hard to protect the traveling public,” Melendez said.
Benton, whose “real name” police say is Pandra Siddell, has an outstanding warrant on a 1991 theft charge, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
A pre-trial hearing for Benton has been scheduled for Thursday, November 10th, at the Airport Courthouse.