Exclusive: CBS 2’s Explosive Report On JFK Baggage Thefts Leads To Demands On FAA

Sen. Schumer Calls For Undercover Agents, Cameras In Bellies Of Planes

NEW YORK (CBS 2) — There was outrage and a demand for action Tuesday to make traveling safer for passengers following a CBS 2 exclusive report about rampant theft of luggage at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The baggage scandal has prompted calls for the Federal Aviation Administration to put undercover agents in the bellies of airplanes, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reports.

It was a stunning discovery by Long Island resident Rita Lamberg after $160,000 of her jewelry was stolen from her luggage at JFK.

“There are no cameras in the baggage once it’s in the plane. Once they took my overnight into the plane that’s where they took all the jewelry,” Lamberg said,

Several baggage handlers were recently arrested for the crime, but that usually doesn’t happen. The bad guys frequently are almost never caught at JFK, where law enforcement sources told Kramer that thefts at the airport have increased at a staggering and alarming rate. There are now more than 200 a day – and that’s every day.

Sources said baggage handlers, jetway workers and even security people are all in on the ongoing scam to steal you blind.

“It’s devastating. It’s almost like your home being robbed,” Sen. Charles Schumer told Kramer on Tuesday.

Schumer is now demanding that the FAA install more security cameras, even in the belly of the airplanes where, sources said, a lot of the crimes take place. However, he said even that is not enough.

“I think there should be some undercover agents in the belly of the plane,” Sen. Schumer said. “They’re probably less able to be caught, less able to be seen, but the answer to that would be having undercover agents there who can witness this.”

Attorney Kenneth Mollins is representing Lamberg as she tries to get reimbursed by the airlines. He said he’s discovered that the problem is rampant.

“The belly of the airplane has become like a flea market for airport employees. They go through all the luggage unencumbered, unchecked,” Mollins said.

Former NYPD detective Frank Shea has been hired by other clients who have been ripped off at the airport. He said many passengers never find out that their luggage was stolen, adding that would be bad for business. He said the airlines say its “lost in transit.”

“If they reported a bag stolen every time a bag went missing you would probably have to set up a precinct at certain airlines,” Shea said.

After the theft all Lamberg has left is an empty jewelry drawer and pictures of her valuables.

“I can’t believe it happened to me,” she said.

There to be a pretty good reason why luggage theft at JFK has skyrocketed. Sources told Kramer that a “significant” number of workers have criminal backgrounds.

To get a job handling luggage at JFK the requirement is simple — no felony convictions within 10 years. But if you manage to cop a plea and get the charges reduced, that’s apparently okay. Kramer asked former detective Shea about it.

Kramer: “You have a criminal record of misdemeanors or you were arrested for a felony and it was plead down. Could you still get a job there?”

Shea: “You could.”

Shea didn’t bat an eye when Kramer told him that law enforcement sources had told her a “significant” number of airport employees have records, even for drugs or robbery.

“If somebody committed a multiplicity of crime in the past they’re excused. They can be hired,” Mollins said.

Kramer: “You’re telling me that people that have been convicted of crime, even if it’s a misdemeanor, are handling valuable luggage?”

Mollins: “I’m telling you that, yes. I’m telling you people, when they’re hired at paid minimum wage and all you can steal.”

“I am so upset that I’m actually sick over the whole thing,” Lamberg added.

Senator Schumer is also demanding that the FAA change the requirements and do more thorough background checks and fingerprinting.

“Somebody, for instance, who has a drug problem, is very likely to steal luggage or steal from the luggage so I think they ought to change the standard for people,” Schumer said. “Those people should not be baggage handlers. The FAA should figure out how to stop it.”

Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …

  • BM

    Is this claim maybe a hoax? Common sense would tell any half brained flyer that with that kind value you would put it in your carry on bag.

  • JFK is the Worst

    P.S. – And STEVE, why do you call the victim of the crime, a moron? Frankly, you sound like a real heartless jerk.

    Read my prior post. I suppose this woman did put all that jewelry in her checked bag, but the carry-ons are no longer the least bit safe either. We should be able to lock our luggage that’s checked, not have criminals manning the baggage handling operation, and not have to worry that our APPROVED carry-on bags will be subject to seizure at the gate.

  • JFK is the Worst

    To RS, and others who have blamed the victim:
    You clearly don’t get how it works now, and need to be informed (not to mention I disagree totally with your basic premise of blaming the victim of a crime).

    I don’t know about this particular jewelry theft, BUT I can tell you that in the past SEVERAL flights I’ve taken, as you are entering the plane at the gate, they ARBITRARILY select MANY PEOPLE with carry-on bags and REQUIRE that they check the bags at the last minute, claiming there is not enough room in the overhead compartments. This is of course, AFTER your bag has gone through security and been approved for carry-on.

    Repeat: the process is arbitrary, so your carry-on is outright confiscated at the gate, and you have NO SAY in the matter. Except: I have noticed, this NEVER happens to 1st class passengers, nor usually the first few boarding groups. The gate attendants seems to just start confiscating carry-ons when the overheads are getting full. So, it’s a total abuse of the passengers who board later on.

    My small-sized carry-on holds an expensive laptop containing personal data that, if stolen, would jeopardize my money, credit, and personal security. It also holds all my electronics (because if they’re stolen from your checked bag, you have no recourse per the airline contracts’ small print), my jewelry pouch, important papers, etc.

    Just how is one supposed to avoid a theft if their carry-on is confiscated at the gate??? Not to mention the delicate contents (laptop) being slammed around by the baggage handlers like a normal suitcase, with NO procedures being used to treat these bags with special care !!!

    Dear Senator Chuck SCHUMER, who’s expressed outrage about the thefts: we know you like to talk and get your name out there, but would you please DO SOMETHING immediately to stop all this theft – it’s really serious! We little people have no way to safeguard our belongings! (And don’t anybody say we can just choose not to fly, because some of us do have to fly.)

    BTW, I was a victim of baggage theft at JFK two years ago. My trip was ruined and my bag was eventually returned to me, VERY DAMAGED and missing several things. JetBlue did virtually nothing, no real apology, no customer service support during the time it was missing. Totally deplorable.

  • texxxAA213

    Why are you shocked I knew this 30 years ago as a teenager…companies can write off the losses….

    “I’m telling you that, yes. I’m telling you people, when they’re hired at paid
    minimum wage and all you can steal.”

  • joseph hludzenski

    Since we must travel with our luggage unlocked you have open season for it to be stolen. Need a better system of screening and locks Get there early open every bag then lock and check it through. Or try to travel without taking the entire house with you. $160,000 in jewelry you had to be out of your mind!!!

  • Patricia Slattery Beck

    March 28, 2012
    Naturally, there is a cry for better pre-employment screening. As for
    the “finger print scan”–I have received a finger print scan under my married name and under my maiden name- simply for my application for FOOD STAMPS.
    psb/ / /

  • Steve

    You have to be a moron, or have never flown before, to pack anything of value in a checked bag. Cameras, jewelry, phones, ipads, etc., belong in your carry on with you at all times, not in a checked bag. First lesson in our new travel by air class……………..

  • laster

    Your parents must be proud of you.

  • karl

    The problem is that years ago airlines provided a good middle- class career that employees were happy and proud to have. I’m not saying there weren’t a few bad apples, but a worker was happy to have a coveted airline job and was proud of the airline he/she worked for. You could live COMFORTABLY on the salary and support a family. You were middle class and grateful. The unions were busted and it became a part- time, just over minimum wage job. Thats what happens when corporate greed prevails and workers rights are trampled. Now, it appears the workforce reflects the low salaries and working conditions. If America keeps breaking unions, all industries will soon follow the airline industry.

    • sick of it all

      A thief is a thief,lets not make excuses for these felons, When I’m broke, I don’t go out and commit a robbery or shoplift…do you Karl?

  • RS

    Why would anyone take $160,000 worth of jewelry and leave it in a checked bag. At least put it in a carry on bag and take it on the plane with you. Or better yet leave it home.

  • Nick

    T – hieving
    S – tealing
    A – holes

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