Multiple airport screeners have been arrested for allegedly taking handsome bribes to look the other way while loads of illegal drugs slipped through security at Los Angeles International Airport, federal officials announced today.
Two current and two former officials at the Transportation Security Administration were arrested in the last 48 hours in connection with at least five incidents from February 2011 to July 2011 in which on duty screeners took payments of up to $2,400 to allow suitcases filled with drugs to pass unimpeded through X-ray machines at LAX, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.'s office said in a statement.
According to Birotte's office, the scheme was uncovered after a member of the alleged conspiracy accidentally went through the wrong security line and was busted by TSA screeners who were not in on the plot. In another case, a TSA screener unknowingly arranged with a confidential source for the Drug Enforcement Administration to receive $1,200 for a shipment of methamphetamine to pass through security.
The current TSA employees, 23-year-old John Whitfield and 25-year-old Capeline McKinney, and the former screeners, 30-year-old Naral Richardson and 27-year-old Joy White, are all expected to be arraigned in Los Angeles today. If convicted, each could potentially face life in prison, Birotte's office said. The two current officials have been suspended indefinitely without pay, officials from the Department of Homeland Security told ABC News. The plot also allegedly involved a couple of known drug runners.
"Airport screeners act as a vital checkpoint for homeland security, and air travelers should believe in the fundamental integrity of security systems at our nation's airports," Birotte said. "The allegations in this case describe a significant breakdown of the screening system through the conduct of individuals who placed greed above the nation's security needs."
A spokesperson for the TSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this report, but Randy Parsons, the TSA Federal Security Director at LAX, said in the statement from Birotte's office the TSA "has assured the investigating agencies we will do everything we can to assist in their investigation."
"While the arrests are a disappointment, TSA is committed to holding our employees to the highest standards," he said.