NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – It was an embarrassing breach of security at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Three airport guards were among 18 arrested in the theft of liquor and duty free merchandise.
Officials said it was a security wake-up call, adding they’re lucky the crooked guards didn’t sell airport access to terrorists, CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
The airport workers and security guards were busted for stealing as many as 100,000 tiny liquor bottles and loads of duty free items, including cigarettes, from American Airlines flights.
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But what’s really causing officials to lose sleep is the security breach at the airport. They are stunned that men hired to guard entry to the tarmac and to the planes are accused of taking bribes to overlook a crime.
“Perhaps more troubling is that we have a breach of security in this post-9/11 world. I think it concerns all of us,” Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.
The breach is so worrisome that Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Inspector General Robert Van Etten said the bust will force the bi-state agency to overhaul its security procedures at the airport.
“I think several months down the road you’ll see police overseeing all security in this organization and there are other enhancements,” Van Etten said.
The guards were charged with taking bribes to allow the loot to leave secure areas of the airport in gray sacks filled with swag. The 15 airport workers were nabbed for stealing the items. Law enforcement sources told CBS 2’s Kramer that the workers stole about 7,500 tiny liquor bottles a day, an annual loss to American Airlines of some $20 million.
“Ultimately, most of the liquor made its way to the underground economy, to be sold to local bodegas and grocery stores,” Brown said.
Officials said that while the airline sells the liquor for $7 a pop on its flights, the workers were selling their loot for up to $1.25. Ironically, they were arrested after being called to attend an important security meeting at the airport.
“Employee pilferage is a major problem not only here at the airport but throughout city and commercial companies,” Brown said.
Officials involved in the probe, code-named “Operation: Last Call,” said it should serve as a security wake-up call, and that airports around the country should do more to weed out the so called “threats from within.”
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