T.S.A. Screeners at LAX Arrested on Federal Drug Trafficking and Corruption Charges for Allegedly Taking Cash Payments to Allow Multi-Kilogram Quantities of Narcotics to Pass Through Security
LOS ANGELES – Two former and two current Transportation Security Administration screeners at Los Angeles International Airport have been arrested on federal narcotics trafficking and bribery charges for allegedly taking cash payments to allow large shipments of cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana to pass through the X-ray machines at TSA security checkpoints.
In addition to the current and former TSA officials, one drug courier is currently in state custody, and another drug courier is expected to surrender tomorrow. Authorities are continuing to search for another alleged drug courier named in a 22-count grand jury indictment that was unsealed this morning.
The indictment outlines five specific incidents in which current and former TSA employees took payments of as much as $2,400 to allow suitcases filled with drugs to pass through X-ray machines while TSA screeners looked the other way.
“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,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “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.”
The indictment names the following individuals:
Naral Richardson, 30, of Los Angeles, who was arrested this morning. Richardson, who was terminated by TSA in 2010, is accused of orchestrating five incidents in which TSA screeners agreed to waive narcotics through security checkpoints.
John Whitfield, 23, of Los Angeles, who was arrested last night. Whitfield, a TSA screener who allegedly worked with Richardson to allow nearly four kilograms of methamphetamine to pass through LAX security, is also accused of personally allowing more than 20 kilograms of cocaine to pass through LAX security.
Joy White, 27, of Compton, who was arrested this morning. White, who was terminated by TSA last year, allegedly was stationed at LAX screening checkpoints when she allowed drugs to pass through, including a shipment of more than 20 kilograms of cocaine.
Capeline McKinney, 25, of Los Angeles, who was arrested this morning. McKinney is a TSA screener who allegedly allowed more than 20 kilograms of cocaine to pass through her security checkpoint.
Duane Eleby, 28, of Downey, who is expected to surrender to authorities tomorrow morning. Eleby allegedly attempted to bring almost five kilograms of cocaine through a security checkpoint, but his narcotics were seized by law enforcement when he went through the wrong security checkpoint.
Terry Cunningham, 28, of Los Angeles, an alleged drug courier, who is currently being sought by authorities.
Stephen Bayliss, 28, of Los Angeles, an alleged drug courier, who is currently is state custody.
All of the defendants who were arrested last night and this morning are expected to be arraigned on the indictment this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles. If they are convicted of the charges in the indictment, the current and former TSA officials each face stiff mandatory minimum penalties, and each would face a potential sentence of life imprisonment.
“This case underscores the unique nature of 21st century drug smuggling,” according to Briane M. Grey, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the DEA in Los Angeles. “Here, the defendants traded on their positions at one the world’s most crucial airport security checkpoints, used their special access for criminal ends, and compromised the safety and security of their fellow citizens for their own profit.”
The indictment outlines five separate incidents in which the TSA officials conspired with either drug couriers or an undercover operative working with the Drug Enforcement Administration to smuggle narcotics through security checkpoints at LAX. These incidents occurred from early February 2011 and continued until early July 2011, according to the indictment. In one incident, Richardson and White allegedly agreed that Eleby would bring about five kilograms of cocaine through a security checkpoint that was being staffed by White. But when Eleby failed to follow White’s instructions and went to the wrong security checkpoint, TSA officials uninvolved in the scheme seized Eleby’s bag, which was filled with cocaine. In the final incident outlined in the indictment, Richardson and Whitfield allegedly conspired with the DEA’s “confidential source” to allow about eight pounds of methamphetamine to pass through a security checkpoint that was being staffed by Whitfield. After the methamphetamine went through security, Whitfield met the confidential source in an LAX restroom to receive $600 in cash, which was the second half of the agreed-upon $1,200 fee for that pass-through.
Richardson is charged in five narcotics conspiracies, five substantive counts of possession with the intent to distribute narcotics, and two counts of offering bribes to public officials. If convicted, Richardson faces mandatory minimum sentences of at least 10 years, and he potentially faces life without parole in federal prison. Each bribery count also carries a statutory maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
Whitfield is charged in a conspiracy involving about four kilograms of methamphetamine, as well as substantive drug possession charges involving marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine. Whitfield is also named as the recipient of six bribes. If he is convicted, Whitfield faces a mandatory minimum prison term of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.
White is charged in three narcotics conspiracies – involving a total of about 25 kilograms of cocaine and about 22 kilograms of marijuana – as well as three substantive drug possession counts. White is also charged with one count of receiving a bribe. If convicted, White would face a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years and could be sentenced to as much as life in prison.
McKinney is charged in a cocaine conspiracy involving 20 kilograms of the drug, as well as a substantive drug possession charge and one count of receiving a bribe. If convicted, McKinney faces a mandatory minimum prison term of 10 years and a potential sentence of life imprisonment.
Eleby is charged in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, as well as possession with the intent to distribute nearly five kilograms of cocaine. If convicted, Eleby faces a five-year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum statutory sentence of 40 years in prison.
Cunningham and Bayliss are each in a conspiracy involving 22 kilograms of marijuana, as well as possession with intent to distribute marijuana. If convicted, each of them would face up to five years in federal prison.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
“TSA has assured the investigating agencies we will do everything we can to assist in their investigation,” said Randy Parsons, TSA Federal Security Director at LAX. “While these arrests are a disappointment, TSA is committed to holding our employees to the highest standards.”
The investigation in this case was conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), which worked in conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration, the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, the Los Angeles International Airport Narcotics Task Force, and the Los Angeles Airport Police.
Release No. 12-051
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