Five airline baggage handlers were indicted by a federal grand jury in Alexandria yesterday in connection with what a prosecutor called "widespread theft of freight, baggage and mail at Washington National Airport."
The 13-count indictment resulted from an investigation that four federal agencies began last fall into thefts of thousands of dollars worth of jewelry, clothing, firearms and mail at the airport.
None of those charged is accused of actually stealing the items. They are charged with possessing stolen goods that they sold to a federal undercover agent, according to Thomas K. Berger, assistant U.S. attorney.
Indicted were: Eugene D. Coletti, 37, of 7200 Ford Ct., Annandale, a United Airlines employee; James P. Bohannon, 39, of 14753 Delta Ct., Woodbridge, and Lawrence T. Moreland, 33, of 125 Manassas Dr., Manassas Park, both Northwest Orient Airlines employees; and Winston H. Andrews, 30, of 13627 Stepney La., Chantilly, and Joseph P. Lukasik Jr., 32, of 4324 23d Parkway Ct., Marlow Heights, both employed by American Airlines.
"No bag was safe," said Berger. "It was a very smooth operation. It was accomplished in a highly professional manner." He added that he could not now divulge the methods used in the alleged thefts and that the investigation may lead to more arrests.
The indictments, covering thefts allegedly made since June 9, 1974, were announced by U.S. Attorney William B. Cummings, head prosecutor for the Eastern District of Virginia, who made the characterization of the thefts at the airport as widespread. Participating in the investigation have been Cummings' office, the FBI, the U.S. Postal Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
When asked for comment, a United Airlines spokesman, Beverly Ishol, said: "This employee [Coletti] to our knowledge has not stolen from United nor has he stolen from our passengers. We do have documentations as to who takes in what or who logs out what baggage."
Mrs. Ishol said United has its own security system, but said she could not disclose how it works. Only few passengers complain about losing items from their baggage, she said, and the airline manager and staff are conducting their own investigation of the problem.
Spokesmen at Northwest Orient and American airlines said they had not comment on the indictments.
All five suspects are charged with conspiring to possess stolen freight and stolen baggage and to steal and poaases mail.
In addition, Bohannon is charged with two counts of possessing stolen jewelry worth more than $100, stolen silver ingots, 1,200 stolen rare coins, a stolen $10,000 savingss certificate, two stolen men's overcoats, a number of stolen rare Canadian postage sets and two stolen U.S. coin sets plus selling a stolen firearm.
Moreland was charged with two counts of possessing stolen jewelry, and Andrews with possessing stolen clothing and stolen electronic calculators.