Sky-High Crime: I-Team Exposes Thefts Aboard Commercial Flights

A Southern California woman recounts her story of being aboard a flight when a flight attendant stole her purse while she slept.

When businesswoman Carol Baez dozed off on an American Airlines redeye to Paris this July, she woke up to find her purse stolen.

She was even more shocked when she discovered the thief: an on-duty American flight attendant.

"You expect these people to be in charge of your safety in case of emergency, and here you're actually victimized by one," said Baez, from San Clemente.

According to the FBI, theft aboard airplanes is not uncommon, though the feds don't keep exact numbers of these crimes.

"It could happen to anyone, because this is a crime of opportunity," says David Gates, an FBI special agent stationed at LAX.

Baez began her "nightmare vacation" at John Wayne Airport in Orange County last July, then switched planes in Dallas to an American 777 bound for Paris.

After eating dinner, Baez curled up in her seat to fall asleep.

"I could feel someone brush across my body," Baez says.

She says she opened her eyes to see a man darting across the darkened cabin, and ducking into a bathroom.

Baez jumped up and waited for the thief to emerge from the bathroom.

"I was in shock. He emerged in full uniform. He was a flight attendant, with a blanket and my purse underneath his arm," Baez says.

The FBI says if you think you've been ripped off in-flight, you should act quickly.

"Immediately tell the flight attendants. They get the ball rolling. They get the captain involved. They get the ground staff involved," Gates tells the NBC4 I-Team.

That's what passengers did aboard a Qantas flight from Sydney to LAX. Several of them noticed cash missing from their carry-on bags, and notified the crew of a suspicious man.

The FBI met the plane at the gate, and questioned the suspect.

"The flight attendants were able to act quickly. We were able to identify the guy… and we got a confession," says Gates.

The confession came from Tony Daly, a professional Australian rugby star, who admitted to stealing $925 from carry-ons, and then hiding the money in a pair of socks.

He returned the money to the FBI, so the feds didn't charge him and he was sent home, Gates says.

In another high-profile case, an Air France flight attendant named by police only as "Lucie R" was arrested and then confessed to stealing money and jewelry from 27 passengers, mostly on nighttime flights, while passengers were sleeping.

"Keep your valuables close to your body. Keep your valuables hidden," Gates says.

Baez admits the mistake she made was leaving her purse in the seat pouch in front of her, in full view of other passengers, as she dozed off.

When she confronted the flight attendant who nabbed her purse, she says she blurted to him, "You stole my purse."

With another flight attendant watching, he eventually gave it back to her. Baez filed complaints with the police and with American Airlines.

In emails to Baez obtained by the I-Team, American identified the thief as flight attendant Pierre Petronio, and says that after it did an investigation into the incident, he was terminated because of his "inappropriate behavior."

"Inappropriate behavior? I call it a crime," Baez says.

In another email to Baez, American offered an "apology" by adding 15,000 frequent flier miles to her American AAdvantage account.

Baez says she was "insulted" by the gesture, since she's flown over 1 million miles as an American frequent flier.

"I really feel like I've been patted on the head and sent on my way and this is brushed under the carpet," says Baez.

After repeated questions from the I-Team by email, American upped its "apology" to Baez by offering her 50,000 miles — the equivalent of two free domestic tickets.

The I-Team attempted to get comments from Tony Daly and Pierre Petronio by Facebook, but didn't receive responses.

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