TSA Screeners at LAX Accused of Taking Bribes from Drug Smugglers

Four TSA employees were allegedly involved in a massive scheme to move cocaine and methamphetamine through one of the nation's busiest airports

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Daniel Acker / Bloomberg / Getty Images

A Transportation Security Administration sign stands as travelers wait to pass through a security check point at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, Illinois on January 19, 2012.

Federal officials have placed two former and two current Transportation Security Administration screeners under arrest for allegedly taking part in a scheme to let large amounts of marijuana and narcotics pass through X-ray machines in security checkpoints at Los Angeles International Airport.

The federal indictment describes five instances in which the screeners took bribes of up to $2,400 to let drug-filled luggage pass through the checkpoints while the screeners ignored them.  An alleged drug courier is also in custody and another is expected to surrender on Friday. One more is being sought by authorities in the 22-count indictment opened on Thursday.

U.S Justice Department officials say John Whitfield, 23, and Capeline McKinney, 25 both of Los Angeles, worked as TSA screeners at LAX and allegedly allowed as much as 24 kilograms of methamphetamine and cocaine pass through X-rays while they turned away. Naral Richardson, 30, of Los Angeles, and Joy White, 27, of Compton, Calif., were both terminated by the TSA in 2010 and 2011, respectively. The DOJ says Richardson set up five separate incidents in which TSA screeners would wave the drugs through security. White, they say, was stationed at checkpoints where she allowed more than 20 kilograms to pass through.

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In one of the incidents, DOJ officials allege Richardson and White agreed to have Duane Eleby, 28, one of the accused couriers, bring about five kilos of cocaine through a checkpoint being attended by White. But Eleby failed to follow White’s instructions and stood in the wrong line. TSA screeners there, who were not involved in the scheme, seized his bag, which was filled with cocaine.

“This case underscores the unique nature of 21st century drug smuggling,” said Briane Grey, Los Angeles Drug Enforcement Agency agent in a statement. “Here, the defendants traded on their positions at one the world’s most crucial airport security checkpoints, used their special access for criminal ends, and compromised the safety and security of their fellow citizens for their own profit.”

If convicted, each person involved in the plot could face a possible life sentence for charges including narcotics conspiracy and drug possession.

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