TSA Screeners at L.A. Airport Charged With Taking Bribes

Two former and two current Transportation Security Administration screeners at Los Angeles International Airport were charged with taking bribes to allow drug shipments to pass through security checkpoints.

The four are charged with taking as much as $2,400 to look the other way as suitcases filled with drugs, including cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine, went through the X-ray machines at the airport’s security checkpoints, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. in Los Angeles said today in a statement. Three alleged drug carriers were also charged.

“Airport screeners act as a vital checkpoint for homeland security, and air travelers should believe in the fundamental integrity of security systems at our nation’s airports,” Birotte said. “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.”

The charges relate to five separate incidents last year, one of which involved a shipment of 20 kilograms of cocaine. One of the couriers didn’t follow instructions in one attempt and went to the wrong security checkpoint where his bag with five kilograms of cocaine was seized.

The Drug Enforcement Agency used a confidential source to bribe two of the screeners to let eight pounds of methamphetamine pass through security, according to prosecutors. The four screeners are charged with narcotics conspiracy and could face life in prison if convicted.

‘Cooperated Fully’

“TSA has cooperated fully with the investigation and will continue to do so,” Nico Melendez, an agency spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement. “The employees involved are no longer performing screening duties.”

The former TSA screeners are Naral Richardson, 30, of Los Angeles, who is accused of orchestrating the five incidents and who was terminated by the TSA in 2010, and Joy White, 27, of Compton, who was terminated last year.

The current TSA employees are John Whitfield, 23, and Capeline McKinney, 25, both of Los Angeles.

The alleged drug couriers are Duane Eleby, 28, of Downey, whose drugs were seized when he went though the wrong checkpoint, and Terry Cunningham, 28, and Stephen Bayliss, 28, both of Los Angeles. Cunningham is being sought by authorities and Bayliss is in state prison, according to the U.S. attorney’s statement.

Curt Leftwich, a lawyer for Whitfield, and Ellen Barry, a lawyer for McKinney, didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment on the allegations. The names of the lawyers for the other defendants weren’t available from court records.

The case is U.S. v. Richardson, 12-00159, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles at epettersson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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