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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, March 17, 2005

Two years of thefts suspected at airport

By Peter Boylan and Ken Kobayashi
Advertiser Staff Writers

A Transportation Security Administration official said yesterday that federal agencies are investigating whether four federal airport screeners stole money and valuables from luggage at Honolulu International Airport over a two-year period.

The TSA screeners have been suspended indefinitely, said Nico Melendez, a TSA spokesman in San Francisco. Melendez declined to comment further about the case, referring questions to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo said federal authorities are continuing to investigate allegations that several Transportation Security Administration workers stole items from luggage at the airport. He said people have been questioned, but there have been no arrests and no charges have been filed.

The Advertiser incorrectly reported yesterday that the four screeners had been arrested and that the FBI had taken them into custody. An FBI spokesman said yesterday that the agency was not involved in the case.

"I can confirm an investigation is ongoing into several TSA employees concerning the theft of items from luggage," Kubo said.

He said it's believed that the luggage belonged to Japanese visitors, but that has not been confirmed. Kubo said he can't confirm that four employees are suspects.

"It may end up being more, it may end up being less," he said.

The investigation is being handled by the TSA's law enforcement arm, as well as special agents from the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General's Office, Kubo said.

"This (the theft allegations) was brought to light by TSA screeners," TSA's Melendez said. "This re-emphasizes the need for passengers to keep valuables in their carry-on (luggage) or on their person."

In response to the suspensions and the investigation, TSA is considering shift changes every six months for the more than 700 full- and part-time federal screeners, Melendez said.

"TSA is considering juggling shifts to prevent problems within the work force," he said.

"We do take theft very seriously because it violates the bond of trust we have with the traveling public. We will take swift and decisive action because we have a zero-tolerance policy for theft."

Figures reported in November show Hawai'i airline travelers have filed more than $100,000 in theft or damage claims against TSA since it began screening luggage here in 2002.

The bulk of the Hawai'i claims (248 claims worth $91,017.52) were reported in Honolulu, ranking Honolulu International Airport 30th in the nation for the number of claims, according to information obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request made by a Denver television station.

Reach Peter Boylan at 535-8110 or pboylan@honoluluadvertiser.com. Reach Ken Kobayashi at kkobayashi@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8030.