Investigation into alleged TSA thefts at JFK Airport

May 17, 2010 8:19:11 PM PDT
They are the backbone of airport security. The TSA screeners who watch to make sure nothing dangerous is put into travel bags, but at JFK Airport, it's what's being taken out that has some passengers upset. "The money was here," said passenger, Gwen Bartlett.

"That was an expensive piece of jewelry, I want my watch," said passenger, Michelle Sugg.

Those three people are among the dozens of travelers whom have had valuables stolen while going through TSA screening checkpoints at JFK in just the past 8 months.

Port Authority Police records show the thefts involve expensive bracelets worth thousands of dollars, high-end watches, iPhones, even prescription medications.

Eyewitness News asked Sugg, "You're watch that was stolen was similar?"

"Very similar, it was a Doxa," Sugg said.

In February, Michelle Sugg's $3,000 watch disappeared from one of the bins as it went through x-ray at a JFK checkpoint. She strongly suspects a TSA agent took it and that she finds deeply disturbing.

"They're stealing from us, this is a national security issue. What if somebody gives them $10,000 and says 'look the other way, let's put this bag through?'" said Sugg.

Gwen Bartlett and her mother lost $940 dollars in cash from a bag as they recently went through JFK screening.

She was hopeful security cameras would reveal her suspicion that a TSA worker stole it.

"The cameras were actually pointed at the exits and they couldn't pinpoint my security lane because the videos weren't showing in that area at that time," Bartlett said.

Eyewitness News asked, "So the cameras were not pointed at the security checkpoint?"

"They were not," Bartlett said.

In the last three years, four TSA checkpoint screeners have been fired for theft while only one has been fired at Newark, and 1 at LaGuardia.

Last July, two Kennedy Airport screeners got caught red-handed swiping a cell phone and laptop from luggage during a TSA integrity sting.

"You got a theft problem here," said Charles Slepian, of the Foreseeable Risk Analysis Center.

Slepian used to run security for American Airlines and he sees the continued theft at JFK checkpoints driven by lack of consequences.

"You create the temptation and you're not supervising to see that those who might be tempted think that the risk isn't worth it," Slepian said.

The TSA says: "Overhead surveillance cameras and close supervision help deter theft at checkpoints" and " that it moves swiftly to end the federal careers of any employee caught stealing."

"It had to have been the TSA," asserted Passman.

But, the thefts keep occurring, as Eyewitness News heard from an NYU student in a Skype interview.

"I was waiting right at the opposite side of the x-ray machine and for about 15 minutes and my laptop never came through," said NYU student and passenger, Joshua Passman.

While heading to Prague to study abroad, his $1,500 dollar laptop was stolen while going through JFK screening.

"They're supposed to be the ones you should be able to trust and, if they can steal a laptop from you then I wouldn't trust them with regular security," Passman said.

The Port Authority says there have been 51 cases of theft at TSA check points at JFK in the last two years.

Police sources say the number is probably much higher, especially since many times, the thefts are never reported.

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