CHICAGO — A former ground services coordinator at O’Hare International Airport has been sentenced to two years in prison for using his position at the airport to help smuggle $396,000 in cash and illegally export weapons scopes, military night vision goggles, and a cellular phone "jammer," announced Patrick Rowan, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and Gary Hartwig, Special Agent-in-Charge for the Chicago Office of Investigations of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Riad Skaff, age 69, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Lebanon, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by the Honorable Joan Gottschall. In addition to his prison sentence, Skaff was ordered to pay a $100 special assessment.
On Aug. 17, 2007, Skaff voluntarily pleaded guilty to all nine counts of an indictment charging him with bulk cash smuggling; entering an aircraft and airport area in violation of applicable security requirements with the intent to commit a felony; exporting and attempted export of defense articles without first obtaining a required export license from the State Department; and attempted international export of merchandise, articles, and objects contrary to U.S. law.
"The illegal exportation of controlled U.S. technology is tantamount to breaching the border," said Gary Hartwig, ICE Special Agent in Charge for the Chicago Office of Investigation. "We will aggressively investigate those whose activities present a threat to our national security."
According to court documents, Skaff had been employed by Sunline Services, Inc., as a subcontractor assigned to Air France, since Feb. 3, 1999 at O’Hare International Airport. Skaff worked as a ground services coordinator and possessed an active airport security badge granting him full access to all secure areas of Terminal 5 of the airport, including the jet ways and tarmac, without being subject to security and screening.
In October 2005, Skaff told an undercover agent from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that he would he would be able to get $25,000 in cash aboard a flight from Chicago to Paris without being subject to inspection, stating that, "I am in charge of the plane, everything." Skaff went on to explain to the agent that he was undertaking a large risk, stating "it is dangerous, if they catch me, they take me to jail."
According to court documents, Skaff later smuggled $25,000 in cash past airport security so the undercover agent could take it aboard an Air France flight to Paris without declaring the export of $10,000 or more in currency, as required by law. The undercover agent told Skaff he was taking the cash to Lebanon to open a business.
Court documents indicate that in December 2005, Skaff accepted $6,000 from the undercover agent to circumvent airport security to help smuggle $100,000 in cash, along with a military-grade cellular phone jammer, aboard an Air France flight to Paris. In November 2006, Skaff accepted $15,000 from the undercover agent to route $271,000 in cash past airport security so it could be smuggled aboard an Air France flight to Paris.
In January 2007, Skaff accepted $5,000 from the undercover agent to bring a bag containing four night vision rifle scopes and two military night vision goggles past airport security to be smuggled aboard an Air France flight to Paris. Shortly thereafter, Skaff was arrested by ICE agents at O’Hare International Airport.
This investigation was conducted by agents of the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with assistance from the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection; and the Chicago Police Department’s Counter Terrorism Section. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles E. Ex from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois.