Prosecutors say they rifled through mail and allegedly used stolen credit cards to purchase electronics, deposited checks and money orders into their own bank accounts. The thefts totaled more than $27,000.
According to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, the handlers jobs included loading U.S. mail onto outbound international flights, and they stole money orders and checks bound for Japan, China and Korea, and elsewhere.
The undercover video shows baggage handlers allegedly using credit cards they had stolen from mail bags to purchase iPads at a JFK Kiosk.
What these five alleged airport thieves didn't know is that they were under surveillance for stealing money orders, credit cards, and checks from mail bags inside the belly of planes.
"The baggage handlers were going through the mail in the belly of the planes looking for credit cards cashier checks money orders. They'd cash them and use credit cards," said Tom Boyle, U.S. Postal Inspectors.
"Because in the belly they figured they would not be seen?" asked Eyewitness News investigative reporter Jim Hoffer.
"That's correct. They knew no camera in the belly of the plane. Hard to do surveillance, they figured they were safe," Boyle said.
Prosecutors say the baggage handlers stole checks ranging from $100 to $1,000 and then deposited them in their own bank accounts.
The stolen credit cards funded their shopping spree.
"I've never seen this brazen activity where they actually take stolen credit cards and go to Best Buy Kiosk and buy iPads and other products," Boyle said.
Port Authority Police and Postal Inspectors caught the five after tracing back the stolen checks to some of the baggage handlers' accounts.
In some cases, authorities say they were stealing from the soldiers and children.
"They were taking money from people sending child support and money from people in military sending money to their families," Boyle said.
The District Attorney identified the defendants as Anthony Austin, 26, of 193-14 Jamaica Avenue, in Hollis, Queens; Michael Williams, 29, of 489 Atkins Avenue, in Brooklyn; Alexander Fluellen, 29, of 2676 Linden Boulevard, in Brooklyn; Samuel Wright, 31, of 888 Franklin Avenue, in Brooklyn; and Ariel Weaver, 20, of 149-51 127th Street, in South Ozone Park, Queens.
The defendants were arraigned Thursday in Queens Criminal Court on separate criminal complaints in which they are variously charged with third- and fourth-degree grand larceny, third-, fourth- and fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, petit larceny and first- and second-degree forgery. Defendants Fluellen, Wright and Weaver were released without bail and Austin was held on $5,000 bail. Defendant Williams is being held pending arraignment.
District Attorney Brown said that, in response to numerous reports of thefts of credit cards, money orders and checks from the U.S. mail, specifically mail allegedly being handled by Ground Services International baggage handlers at JFK International Airport, a joint investigation was commenced by the United States Postal Inspection Service and the Port Authority Police Department, including an investigation of GSI employees allegedly pilfering mail which they were supposed to transport from the JFK postal facility to outbound overseas aircraft at Terminal #7, including Cathay Pacific Airlines, which flies to Japan and Korea.