Two former and two current Transportation Security Administration screeners at Los Angeles International Airport have been arrested on federal narcotics trafficking and bribery charges for allegedly accepting cash payments to allow large shipments of illegal drugs to pass through security checkpoints, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In addition, one alleged drug courier is currently in state custody, and another alleged drug courier surrendered to law enforcement April 26, said Thom Mrozek, a U.S. attorney spokesman in Los Angeles. Authorities are continuing to search for another alleged drug courier named in a 22-count grand jury indictment that was unsealed April 25.
The indictment identifies five specific incidents in which current and former TSA employees allegedly took payments of as much as $2,400 to allow suitcases filled with cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana to pass through X-ray machines at LAX while the screeners looked the other way.
“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 Andr/ 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.”
Named in the indictment are Naral Richardson, 30, of Los Angeles, who was terminated by TSA in 2010; John Whitfield, 23, of Los Angeles, a TSA screener; Joy White, 27, of Compton, who was terminated by TSA last year; and Capeline McKinney, 25, of Los Angeles, a TSA screener.
Randy Parsons, TSA federal security director at LAX, said the organization has “assured the investigating agencies we will do everything we can to assist in their investigation.”
“While these arrests are a disappointment, TSA is committed to holding our employees to the highest standards,” Parsons said.
Also named in the indictment are Stephen Bayliss, 28, of Los Angeles, an alleged drug courier who is currently is state custody; Duane Eleby, 28, of Downey, an alleged drug courier who surrendered to authorities April 26; and Terry Cunningham, 28, of Los Angeles, an alleged drug courier who is currently being sought by authorities.
All of the suspects who were arrested were scheduled to be arraigned on the charges in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles. If they are convicted of the charges, the current and former TSA officials each face stiff mandatory minimum penalties and each would face a potential sentence of life imprisonment, Mrozek said.
“This case underscores the unique nature of 21st century drug smuggling,” alleged Briane M. Grey, acting special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Agency 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.”