The DEA announced that two former and two current Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners, who worked at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) were arrested on federal narcotics trafficking and bribery charges. The TSA screeners allegedly took cash payments and allowed large shipments of cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana to pass through the X-ray machines at security checkpoints.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) also apprehended one drug courier and expects another smuggler to surrender to authorities tomorrow. DEA agents working the case are continuing their search for another alleged drug courier named in the unsealed 22-count grand jury indictment.
The indictment highlights five incidents in which TSA employees acquired cash payments to allow suitcases filled with drugs to slip past the X-ray machines unnoticed.
“This case underscores the unique nature of 21st century drug smuggling,” according to Briane M. Grey, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the DEA in Los Angeles. “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.”
Aviation security expert, Glen Winn, a 36-year military veteran, airline and airport security industry insider said he “would classify this as a catastrophic break down of security that threatened the airport.”
This case also demonstrates American airports remain under threat from more than just terrorists.
“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,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “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 unsealed indictment named the following individuals: Naral Richardson, 30, of Los Angeles, (who was terminated by TSA in 2010), John Whitfield, 23, of Los Angeles, (who was currently employed by TSA), Joy White, 27, of Compton, (who was terminated by TSA last year), Capeline McKinney, 25, of Los Angeles, (who was a current TSA screener), Duane Eleby, 28, of Downey, (who is expected to surrender to authorities), Terry Cunningham, 28, of Los Angeles, (an alleged drug courier, who is currently being sought by authorities), Stephen Bayliss, 28, of Los Angeles, (an alleged drug courier, who is currently is state custody).
All the apprehended defendants will be arraigned at United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles. “If they are convicted of the charges in the indictment, the current and former TSA officials each face stiff mandatory minimum penalties, and each would face a potential sentence of life imprisonment,” according to U.S. attorney Birotte.
“The indictment outlines five separate incidents in which the TSA officials conspired with either drug couriers or an undercover operative working with the Drug Enforcement Administration to smuggle narcotics through security checkpoints at LAX.”
The incidents under investigation began in February 2011 and continued until early July 2011, according to the indictment.
“One incident, Richardson and White allegedly agreed that Eleby would bring about five kilograms of cocaine through a security checkpoint that was being staffed by White. But when Eleby failed to follow White’s instructions and went to the wrong security checkpoint, TSA officials uninvolved in the scheme seized Eleby’s bag, which was filled with cocaine,” the DEA explained. “In the final incident outlined in the indictment, Richardson and Whitfield allegedly conspired with the DEA’s ‘confidential source’ to allow about eight pounds of methamphetamine to pass through a security checkpoint that was being staffed by Whitfield. After the methamphetamine went through security, Whitfield met the confidential source in an LAX restroom to receive $600 in cash, which was the second half of the agreed-upon $1,200 fee for that pass through.”
If convicted of their respective crimes, Richardson, Whitfield, McKinney, will serve a minimum of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Eleby, Cunningham and Bayliss face a five-year mandatory minimum sentences and a maximum statutory sentence of 40 years in prison for their part in the drug smuggling.
“TSA has assured the investigating agencies we will do everything we can to assist in their investigation,” said Randy Parsons, TSA Federal Security Director at LAX.
“While these arrests are a disappointment, TSA is committed to holding our employees to the highest standards.”
The multi agency investigation was conducted by the DEA, the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), which worked in conjunction with the Transportation Security Administration, the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles International Airport Narcotics Task Force, and the Los Angeles Airport Police.
For more stories; http://www.examiner.com/homeland-security-in-national/kimberly-dvorak
© Copyright 2012 Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved.
Only in New York City could three separate law enforcement agencies obfuscate responsibility for upholding gun laws and resort to finger pointing as their defense to shamelessly robbing the public under color of the “rule of law.” Not surprisingly, the Second Amendment receives an inordinate amount of attention, but not much legal scrutiny from self-serving New Yorkers and the entities they represent.
New York authorities rely on the honesty of air travelers transiting through the state with lawfully owned firearms, who become victims upon disclosure under Federal law of their weapon possession, to create a well-oiled, gun-eating, revenue-raising machine. New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg’s interpretation of the Second Amendment nabs unsuspecting airline passengers (hundreds have been ensnared the past few years) jails and fines them.
New York City is a gun-free zone, and one requires permission from Bloomberg’s administration to carry a weapon within the city– and that permission rarely happens. For security purposes the City often relies on the service of off-duty or retired NYPD to keep the peace in the bustling metropolis of the Big Apple. However, unsuspecting travelers at area airports are apprehended for simply passing through this City to their final destination where it is lawful to have a firearm in their possession.
Combine these heavy-handed tactics with the Department of Justice (DOJ) policy of suing states for laws it favors and Americans have a new recipe for dictatorial leadership. Lately, Attorney General Eric Holder has been in the business of suing individual states for allegedly trumping federal law, most notably illegal immigration and voting laws. While the DOJ picks and chooses its causes, they have chosen to let New York’s Port Authority Police seize lawfully owned firearms from travelers at its airports.
After 9/11, the U.S. government set up a number of safety measures to protect air travelers, and as a result they created the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as the federal overseer of airport security. TSA is in charge of security at most major U.S. airports—except New York, which has hijacked control from local TSA agents.
New York City’s firearms interdiction and enforcement interferes with the airport security chain of command. It is here the finger pointing starts and the doubletalk reigns supreme.
The responsibility and non- responsibility approach
This reporter’s recent visit to TSA’s Washington DC headquarters seeking a resolution of this jurisdictional conflict yielded no answers. A phone conversation in the lobby went something like this; “Hi, I’m the reporter from California who has been talking to you via the phone regarding the security measures at LaGuardia Airport and wanted to clarify a few things. Do you have a minute?”
TSA spokesperson Greg Soule then replies; “Sure.”
This reporter answers; “Great, I’m in the lobby can you come down and meet me, I only need 5 minutes?”
Mr. Soule replies; “Aaa… well… actually I can’t come down, but I can refer you to our website.”
Wow, it’s an interesting strategy the TSA employs at their DC headquarters. Another phone call to TSA spokesperson Mike McCarthy confirms TSA is indeed in charge of airport security. Great news. Finally someone can explain why New York City’s Port Authority Police shows up at the ticket counter and arrests travelers when they attempt to check in their TSA-approved locked and unloaded firearm’s cases into checked baggage. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and Mr. McCarthy says there must be a “special agreement” to supersede TSA’s authority.
A “special agreement” explanation leads to the New York Port Authority Police. A call to Port Authority’s Press Officer Al Della Fave yields a similar response, and he explains the officers at the airports are only doing what they are told. And it is Mr. Della Fave’s understanding that Port Authority Police have some sort of “special agreement” with New York’s legal community (Bloomberg and/or District Attorneys) and Port Authority officers are only following orders.
Fair enough, rank-and-file officers are pretty good about following orders, and there is no indication that this case is any different in New York.
The next phone call is to the Queen’s County District Attorneys office that prosecutes the lawful firearm owners, travelling with their guns locked up and stored as per federal law and TSA requirements.
So far, the common denominator with all the agencies is the explicit “special agreement” and if there were a document out there, surely the District Attorney’s office would have a copy of the document.
“I have checked with our executive staff and there is no Memorandum of Understanding between the District Attorney’s Office and either the TSA or Port Authority Police Department,” said Kevin R. Ryan, director of communications for the Queens County District Attorney’s office.
So, the DA admits that there is no “memo” or “special agreement” between the Queen’s County District Attorney’s office, New York Port Authority Police and the TSA that justifies Port Authority Police supersede federal law at their airports. Normally, Federal law requires some sort of Memo of Understanding (MOU) between states and municipalities as currently TSA regulates the interstate transportation of firearms.
Knowing New York City has the nation’s toughest gun laws (after a ton of research) it appears New York City is serious about keeping the city a gun-free zone. Again, fair enough, but if New Yorkers are so concerned about firearms entering their jurisdiction, then why aren’t they apprehending the lawful gun owners as they leave the airport with their firearms in their luggage? TSA keeps a record of all firearms that passengers carry in their “checked” luggage. One would assume law enforcement wouldn’t want those firearms on the city sidewalks, right?
“While I cannot speak on behalf of the TSA, I can tell you that we have never been notified by the TSA of somebody traveling to New York with a weapon. The most likely reason is that the TSA would not be aware of the person’s licensing status in New York,” Ryan went on to explain.
However, TSA confirms they keep a record of all firearms and haven’t been asked by the DA’s office for notification.
The frustration continues, and nobody is taking responsibility or providing constructive answers for those who travel through New York.
Determined to get to the bottom of this issue this reporter called the airline ticket counter at LaGuardia Airport to set the record straight. The call goes something like; “Hi there I’m calling to find out what process I can expect when I get to the airport today. I left California and traveled to New Jersey through LaGuardia with my firearm, which I’m licensed to carry and is stored in the TSA-approved case. I’m headed back later today and wanted to know if there was anything I should be aware of or if I need extra time at the ticket counter?” The American Airline representative, Ty (no last name, security she says), replies; “Nope, it’s the same process in all airports.”
Except it’s not. Had a lawful gun owner followed that due diligence they’d be facing felony gun charges in the City of New York. It seems odd that the airline employees don’t know the rules because once a traveler presents a locked-up firearm at an airport ticket counter in New York for check in, as required by TSA, LaGuardia airline personnel call Port Authority NOT TSA, who immediately arrests the unsuspecting traveler.
Ryan explains that his boss, District Attorney Richard Brown; “has called upon the airlines to warn travelers of their responsibility to check local gun laws. Many airlines when asked by a passenger about transporting a weapon will only inform them of federal regulations with no mention of the need to check local laws. It is therefore incumbent upon passengers to acquaint themselves with the weapon laws of the jurisdiction that they are visiting and to comply with any and all legal requirements if they choose to travel with a weapon.”
Yet, nobody this reporter called mentioned anything about arresting travelers as they try to leave from a New York airport. It’s also worth noting that there is nothing mentioned on the airlines’ or TSA’s websites indicating that if travelers pass through New York they need to make alternate plans for checking in a firearm upon departure.
Consequences of due diligence
For the hundreds of passengers ensnared in New York City’s harsh firearm rules, there is little recourse for an individual. However, several attorneys, including Dick Heller (who was successful in taking on the Washington DC politicos and eventually won a Supreme Court case regarding the right to own a firearm) said at a Washington DC dinner that a class-action lawsuit might be in order to reign in New York’s firearm laws.
As far as the New York legal community is concerned, the law is the law, and until somebody challenges the legal standing, the arrests will continue to take place at the airports.
Ryan explained the law in a matter-of-fact tone that “when a visitor to our city is arrested, particularly at our airports, for possessing a weapon, there are several factors we consider in fashioning an appropriate disposition — including, but not limited to, was the weapon legally obtained, does the individual possess a valid permit in their home state, the duration of their stay in our city and, in airport cases, whether the individual voluntarily disclosed the weapon to authorities. In adjudicating such cases, there must be a balance between our obligation to protect our citizens and an individual’s error in judgment. Over the years, we have struck that balance well in ensuring that justice is served and maintaining our state’s tough, successful gun laws.”
Fairness in New York requires the defendant to pay a fine, court fees and let authorities destroy their legally owned firearm. If defendants follow this sage advice, the judge’s gavel will fall, and they will not serve any jail time. For the court’s trouble, the defendants will pay approximately $10-15 thousand in fees/fines.
One last fact for New Yorkers to consider with their so-called successful “tough gun laws.” is that while New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his District Attorney offices praise their “toughest in the nation” firearm laws, firearm crime statistics portray a different picture.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the most recent handgun crime statistics indicates New York has witnessed an increase of firearm related crimes despite the state’s tougher laws.
Keeping this in mind 2nd Amendment groups, like Calguns, say New York may be infringing on gun rights. “Look if you are staying in New York City, gun owners must comply with the City’s gun laws, but if you are simply passing through it would seem NYC is over-stepping the Second Amendment,” Jason Davis an attorney for Calguns said.
Davis along with other citizens who have been charged with felonies, suffered the wrath of New York’s tough gun laws, contend the entire process is nothing more than a money-making business for the Port Authority Police, New York courts and area lawyers that represent those ensnared at airport ticket counters.
Criminal-defense lawyer Martin D. Kane points out on Lawyers.com; “What New York does is not helping matters. It’s pretty unreasonable, and it’s great fuel.” He goes on to explain that attorneys should not try to ‘defend’ these cases and claims there is a legal process in place.
Nevertheless, Kane claims the specific law is clear and there is no room for negotiation (18 USC §926A Interstate Transportation of Firearms, notwithstanding the clear conflict between NYC and TSA regulations regarding the transportation of weapons.
Other NYC gun-related cases
Two more NYC gun cases settled this week involving a medical student, Meredith Graves of Tennessee and a retired U.S. Marine Ryan Jerome of Indiana.
Graves attorney, Daniel Horwitz spoke to media after he successfully reduced the felony gun charge to a misdemeanor. “She’s happy that this ordeal is over, and she’s looking forward to getting on with her life and her career as a doctor,” he told The New York Post.
The former Marine, Jerome’s case also settled this week. After his arrest, Jerome decided to fight the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and beat the felony gun charge, but changed his mind midway through the battle and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor weapons-possession charge in an effort to avoid a three and a half year jail sentence, according to a New York Times story.
While New York City continues to enforce its over-reaching gun laws, it’s up to gun owners to follow the rules, recognize a problem exists in NYC and use legal channels afforded to them to change the Big Apple’s anti-Second Amendment seizures. When a state impedes on Constitutional rights, it has a chilling effect on law-abiding citizens and the last resort necessary is for Lady Justice (Supreme Court) to return the rights’ to the people, just as the founders intended.
To read three other NYC gun-related stories link here; http://www.examiner.com/homeland-security-in-national/unwitting-airline-passengers-robbed-of-their-second-amendment-rights-nyc
For more stories; http://www.examiner.com/homeland-security-in-national/kimberly-dvorak
© Copyright 2012 Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved.
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