Two former and two current airport security screeners were arrested this week on federal charges of drug trafficking and bribery for smuggling large bundles of cocaine and other illegal drugs through security checkpoints at Los Angeles International Airport in exchange for cash, authorities said.
In a 22-count indictment unsealed Wednesday, Justice Department officials said the screeners for the Transportation Security Administration took payments of up to $2,400 to help drug couriers pass suitcases through X-ray machines at security checkpoints.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said in a statement.
In addition to the TSA officials, one drug courier is in state custody in California and another is expected to surrender tomorrow, authorities said. They are continuing to search for a third courier.
The 40-page indictment lays out five incidents in which the screeners took cash payments.
In one incident, screeners schemed to allow about eight pounds of methamphetamine to pass through security, then went to an airport restroom where they were handed $600, the second half of the payment for that delivery, according to prosecutors.
Briane Grey, acting special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration 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,” Grey 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.
The accused drug couriers are Duane Eleby, 28, who is expected to surrender, and Terry Cunningham and Stephen Bayliss, both 28, who are at large.
If convicted, the employees face a minimum of 10 years in federal prison.