Three San Francisco International Airport Security Screeners Charged With Fraud And Smuggling Drugs
SAN FRANCISCO – Three San Francisco International Airport security screeners have been arrested on charges of defrauding the government and smuggling cocaine, announced Acting United States Attorney Brian J. Stretch, Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge John J. Martin, Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge David J. Johnson, and Transportation Security Administration Office of Inspection Special Agent in Charge Regan Fong. A federal indictment charging the three individuals with fraud and drug smuggling was unsealed yesterday.
The three defendants named in the indictment were employees of Covenant Aviation Security (CAS), a private company that contracts with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to provide security screening services at San Francisco International Airport (SFO). The defendants are Joseph Scott, 35, of Vallejo, a former Supervisory Transportation Security Officer for CAS; Michael Castaneda, 32, of Daly City, a former Lead Transportation Security Officer for CAS; and Jessica Scott, 27, of San Pablo, a current Supervisory Transportation Security Officer for CAS.
The indictment alleges that the three defendants conspired to use their positions as Transportation Security Officers to allow passengers to smuggle real and simulated cocaine through airport security checkpoints. The defendants all were assigned to SFO. The defendants arranged for passengers carrying narcotics in their carry-on luggage to pass through the x-ray machine at a security checkpoint line without adequately screening the luggage for explosives, incendiaries, weapons, or other threats to security. Through the use of confidential sources and undercover agents, law enforcement discovered that defendants made these arrangements for a fee on five occasions between May 2013 and April 2014.
The indictment further alleges that, once the passenger carrying drugs or simulated drugs arrived at the security checkpoint lane, s/he was directed or escorted to a particular security line. On that line, one of the defendants was either operating or overseeing the operation of the x-ray machine. The defendant operating or overseeing the x-ray machine either knew the carry-on baggage contained narcotics, viewed images that suggested the need for secondary inspection, or both. Nevertheless, in each instance, the defendant responsible for the x-ray machine failed to call for a secondary screening of the baggage or alert law enforcement or a supervisor to the presence of suspected narcotics. In each case, the drugs and simulated drugs were smuggled as part of undercover operations performed by the Drug Enforcement Administration and TSA-Office of Inspection designed to determine the scope and nature of the conspiracy.
All three defendants are charged with two counts. The first count is conspiring to defraud the TSA by obstructing a lawful government function, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. Violation of this statute carries a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a maximum fine of $250,000. The second count is conspiring to distribute and possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846 and 841. Violation of this statute carries a mandatory minimum of ten years, a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, and a maximum fine of $10 million.
An indictment contains only allegations. Jessica Scott, Joseph Scott, and Michael Castaneda, as with all defendants, must be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. In addition, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553.
The indictment was unsealed on November 5, 2015, after all three defendants were arrested and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler. Joseph Scott and Jessica Scott were released today, each subject to a $50,000 bond. Michael Castaneda remains in federal custody and is scheduled to appear for a detention hearing Monday, November 9, 2015, before Magistrate Judge Beeler.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Adam Wright and Marc Price Wolf are prosecuting the case with the assistance of Amanda Martinez, Rawaty Yim, Jacquelyn Lovrin, and Yanira Osorio. The investigation has involved officers and agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the TSA Office of Inspection, San Francisco Police Department, and the Oakland Police Department.
This case is the product of an extensive investigation by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a focused multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional task force investigating and prosecuting significant drug trafficking organizations throughout the United States by leveraging the combined expertise of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.