TSA Screeners Accused of Taking Bribes to Allow Cocaine Past LAX Checkpoints

Authorities say a suspect's failure to follow instructions led to arrests in the bribery scheme

By Jonathan Lloyd and Ted Chen
|  Thursday, Apr 26, 2012  |  Updated 9:05 AM PDT
View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print
Prosecutor David Hertzog explains the methods possibly used by Transportation Security Authority employees accused of allowing drugs to pass through security checkpoints at LAX in exchange for cash. Ted Chen reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on April 25, 2012.

Ted Chen, Hernan Vazquez

Prosecutor David Hertzog explains the methods possibly used by Transportation Security Authority employees accused of allowing drugs to pass through security checkpoints at LAX in exchange for cash. Ted Chen reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on April 25, 2012.

Photos and Videos
More Photos and Videos

Cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana were allowed to pass security checkpoints at LAX in a bribery scheme that led to the arrests of two former and two current Transportation Security Administration employees, according to authorities.

Undercover agents posing as couriers made contact with the screeners through social media, said Jose Martinez, spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Agency.

"They would allow us access into the internal security of the airport, so we could smuggle drugs," Martinez said.

The screeners were accused of allowing large amounts of cocaine and other drugs to pass through X-ray machines at security checkpoints in exchange for payments of up to $2,400, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"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.

The indictment cites five incidents in which the employees allowed suitcases filled with drugs to pass X-ray machines at security checkpoints. The scheme occurred over a six-month period last year,  according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

One drug courier is already in custody in connection with the case, according to authorities. Another courier suspect is expected to surrender Thursday.

One of the courier suspects, identified as Downey resident Duane Eleby, allegedly attempted to bring nearly five kilograms of cocaine through a security checkpoint. The drugs were seized when he went through a checkpoint that was not staffed by someone involved in the scheme, authorities said.

TSA employees who were not involved in the scheme seized Eleby's bag and found the cocaine, according to investigators.

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.

"While these arrests are a disappointment, TSA is committed to holding our employees to the highest standards," said Randy Parsons, TSA Federal Security Director at LAX.

If convicted, all four employees face a minimum of 10 years in federal prison.

Follow NBCLA for the latest LA news, events and entertainment: iPhone/iPad App | Facebook | Twitter | Google+ | Instagram | RSS | Text Alerts | Email Alerts

Get the latest headlines sent to your inbox!
View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print
Leave Comments
What's New
Running Dry
Coverage of the California drought. Read more
Follow Us
Sign up to receive news and updates that matter to you.
Send Us Your Story Tips
Check Out