This Jan. 10, 2007 file photo shows Transportation Security Officer Juan Morales at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles. Two former and current Transportation Security Administration employees have been arrested and indicted on drug conspiracy charges for allegedly allowing large amounts of cocaine and other drugs to pass through security screening at Los Angeles International Airport last year. Seven people face drug-related charges in a 22-count indictment unsealed Wednesday April 25, 2012, in Los Angeles federal court. (AP Photo/Ann Johansson, File)
TSA screeners charged in LA drug trafficking probe
By GREG RISLING
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two former and two current Transportation Security Administration employees have been arrested on federal drug trafficking and bribery charges for allowing large amounts of cocaine and other drugs to pass through X-ray machines at security checkpoints in exchange for cash, authorities said.
A 22-count indictment unsealed Wednesday outlined five incidents where the employees took payments of up to $2,400 to provide drug couriers unfettered access at Los Angeles International Airport over a six-month period last year.
“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,” said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.
Among those arrested and charged are Naral Richardson, 30, of Los Angeles, who was fired by TSA in 2010 and accused of orchestrating the scheme; John Whitfield, 23, of Los Angeles, a current TSA screener; Joy White, 27, of Compton, who was terminated last year; and Capeline McKinney, 25, of Los Angeles, also a current screener.
It wasn’t immediately known if any of the four had retained attorneys.
Authorities became aware of the smuggling scheme last February when Richardson, who began working at TSA in 2002 and White, who was hired six years ago, arranged for co-defendant Duane Eleby, a suspected drug courier, to pass a large amount of cocaine through security screening at LAX.
But Eleby failed to follow instructions provided by White and was arrested after he went to the wrong terminal and another TSA screener found the cocaine, prosecutors said.
Federal agents then set up a sting where informants were able to pass cocaine and methamphetamine through security checkpoints without further inspection. In one case, after nearly four kilograms of meth went through an X-ray machine, Whitfield and an operative met in an airport bathroom where Whitfield was paid $600 for his efforts, court documents show.
In another instance, McKinney let more than 20 kilograms of cocaine to pass through her security checkpoint, authorities said.
Randy Parsons, TSA’s security director at LAX, said the agency is disappointed about the arrests but that it remained committed to holding its employees to the highest standards.
If convicted, all four employees face a minimum of 10 years in federal prison. Whitfield, who has worked at TSA since 2008, and McKinney, a seven-year veteran, are under suspension, authorities said.
There have been a handful of other arrests of TSA employees since the agency was created in response to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Last week, former TSA officer Jonathan Best pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute oxycodone for his role in a painkiller trafficking ring. Another former TSA officer, a former New York police officer and a former Florida state trooper have already pleaded guilty.