Theft charge for TSA screener
By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Peter Boylan
A Transportation Security Administration employee has been charged with felony theft after he allegedly stole $16,000 from the backpack of a visitor at a Moloka'i airport checkpoint, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court yesterday.
Michael Gomes is charged with a single count of acting as a government employee to "wrongfully convert to his own use money and property of another having a value of greater than $1,000," according to the complaint.
Gomes, a screener, was terminated from his job on Tuesday, the TSA said. He is the third TSA screener to be charged with felony theft by federal authorities this month.
On March 3, Benny Arcano and Christopher Cadorna were charged in a complaint with felony theft for allegedly stealing yen valued at more than $1,000 from the suitcases of Japanese tourists during 2004 and 2005.
Both men are scheduled to enter pleas before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren today at 10 a.m.
Nico Melendez, a TSA spokes-man based in California, declined yesterday to comment on the charges but said that TSA has "a zero-tolerance policy for theft."
In Gomes' case, an Island Air passenger flying from Moloka'i to Honolulu reported to TSA on Feb. 8 that an envelope containing $16,000 in cash that was stuffed into a backpack and sealed in a cooler was missing, according to the complaint.
Special Agent Keith Edwards of the TSA Office of Inspection and Investigations learned that Gomes was the only screener assigned to search checked baggage at the time the passenger checked his luggage in on Moloka'i.
Gomes told Edwards he took the money after searching the man's baggage and had spent $2,500 paying off personal bills, according to the complaint.
The rest of the money, $13,500, was being kept in his house, Gomes told investigators, according to the complaint. Gomes eventually turned the money over to Maui County police, who are responsible for law enforcement on Moloka'i.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo said federal employees must be held to a higher standard.
"We're very intent on showing that anybody who has a position of public trust will be held to a higher standard and if they attempt to take things, that type of corruption will be dealt with harshly in federal court," he said yesterday. "The public's focus should be on the great work of the overwhelming number of TSA employees in Hawai'i. I don't think a few bad apples should ruin the perception for the entire bunch."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron Johnson, who is prosecuting the case for the government, declined comment yesterday.
Reach Peter Boylan at firstname.lastname@example.org.