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TSA agent suspended, charged with stealing cash

By Ed O'Keefe

A Transportation Security Administration agent surrendered to authorities on Tuesday and was charged with stealing almost $500 from a wheelchair-bound woman passing through a security checkpoint at Newark Liberty International Airport.

The TSA has suspended agent Leroy Ray, 44 of Newark, adding yet another incident to a growing list of troubling cases involving agency workers. Officials said 23 TSA agents have been removed or fired since 2007 for stealing items at security checkpoints or from checked baggage.

TSA surveillance cameras caught Ray taking money from a woman's purse after the bag passed through an X-ray machine Feb. 3, according to court documents. Ray allegedly took the bag to another table to search it and removed an envelope containing $300 and then $195 in cash from inside a zipper pocket.

The woman return minutes later to tell agents that she was missing the money. Ray walked into a nearby office when the woman returned to the checkpoint and placed what appeared to be the envelope in a lost and found tray, court documents said.

Ray then returned to the check point and told colleagues that he recognized the victim, knew what she had lost and that he had recovered her envelope, which he said had fallen on the floor. Another official retrieved the white envelope from the lost and found tray and the woman identified it as hers.

Ray was released on $1,000 bail following a court appearance in federal court in Newark on Tuesday. He faces two counts of embezzlement and making false statements and could serve a maximum of six years in prison and pay a combined $500,000 in fines.

TSA's office of inspections worked with police to investigate the allegations, according to spokesman Greg Soule.

"TSA will continue to move swiftly and decisively to end the federal career of any employee who engages in illegal activity on the job," Soule said in a statement.

President Obama nominated his third pick to lead the agency on Monday after the first two nominees withdrew. TSA employs more than 50,000 people, whose reputations have been called into question in recent months by at least eight unrelated incidents involving practical jokes played on air passengers, drug use, leaving a security post and falling asleep on the job.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | May 19, 2010; 9:45 AM ET
Categories:  Agencies and Departments  
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Comments

TSA is masterpiece theater. Just be wary the whole thing is a joke, be prepared to have them gawk at your naked body and for heavens sake, leave plenty of time for connecting flights if you are coming back from oversears because they love nothing more than to find something suspicious in your bag so you will miss the connecting flight. I'm looking at Philadelphia in particular.

Posted by: biffgrifftheoneandonly | May 19, 2010 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Don't these TSA people get F. B. I. background checks ? Maybe it is wrapped duck tape or civil rights or something.

Posted by: peterroach | May 19, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Stealing from a woman in a wheel chair! If convicted, one of his hands should be cut off. As a humanitarian gesture, he should be allowed to choose which hand goes on the chopping block.

Posted by: VelaFella | May 19, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

Folks, this is what we get for turning out homeland security over to a bureaucracy!! For Pete's sake -- Napalitono has not guessed right on anything yet -- much less managing TSA!! Here -- we see a bunch of folks who are not supervised, taking advantage of those who may not be able to fight back -- JUST LIKE THE REST OF TEAM OBAMA!!

HOW DO YOU LIKE THIS CHANGE NOW??

Posted by: wheeljc | May 19, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

wheeljc says, "Folks, this is what we get for turning out homeland security over to a bureaucracy!!

You are correct. George Bush made the TSA, Homeland Security and selected the leadershoip that is now dysfunctional.

Team Obama, what about Team Cheney and Bush that made ther DHS fiasco? You are proud of their accomplishments? right!

TSA and DHS established and staffed by The Bush Administration. America needs to get it straight right now and stop blaming others for what the GOP has made America into.

Posted by: patmatthews | May 19, 2010 11:14 AM | Report abuse

For every instance that an officer, not agent by the way, does something inappropriate; there's ten or more times they are falsely accused. Rarely does the Agency file charges against those making false accusations. Looks like it was handled completely appropriately and self-reported. Sad to say that these things are kept hidden by for-profit contractors. Fortunately the officer will be given a fair hearing as an accused criminal; something the average TSO doesn't receive without collective bargaining rights on a daily basis. That's the real crime in this Agency. - Ron Moore ron_e_moore@yahoo.com

Posted by: joekenehan | May 19, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

This, in a nutshell, is why adding ever-more "checkpoints", "searches", and general discretionary power for government agents to mess with us is a bad idea.

It always starts off sounding good and well intentioned: "we're doing this for your SAFETY", "all of people are screened and trustworthy", "we would never abuse the power we've been given."

But, regrettably, people are not perfect, and power corrupts. And 20 years from now, we'll wonder how we got ourselves into a system where the TSA "officer" at the airport needs to get a $50 'gratuity' every time we walk through the checkpoint, lest we find ourselves "matching the name of someone on the no-fly list, ma'am" or "carrying this bag of suspicious powder, sir."

Posted by: kcx7 | May 19, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Last December my wife and I were returning to Dulles from St. Thomas. While at St. Thomas we purchased 12 bottles of assorted Duty Free rums. The bottles were expertly packed and sealed in boxes at the store to conform to all US regulations and were checked at the airport. When we arrived at Dulles both of the boxes had been opened and resealed but in such a sloppy manner three of the bottles were destroyed. What a mess. Why TSA found it necessary to open the boxes we will never know.

Posted by: msuritz | May 19, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

Odds are that TSA workers fired for theft had something in their pre-TSA backgrounds that should've been a tipoff - had TSA interviewing and background checking been thorough. TSA should have a screening for employees as thorough as the no-fly list.

Posted by: Irishvetter | May 19, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

It's hard to think 8 incidents with 50,000 employees, over at least several months, is really all that high. Considering how many people go through airport security everyday. Plus, no instances of a terrorist attack originating from a domestic flight since 911. So, what's the problem? Just more ranting.

Posted by: magnifco1000 | May 19, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

23 cases in 2-3 years is not very many considering the volume they do and the number of TSA employees (40,000+ with significant turnover). If they increased TSA salaries and had a stronger background check, they might reduce this. But remember, you will find corruption in every company, government and outfit.TSA is a whipping boy; most employees are great.

Posted by: oliverfine | May 19, 2010 1:19 PM | Report abuse

@magnifco1000 - There have also been no instances of elephants trampling anyone domestically since 9-11, guess our elephant-repellent must be working perfectly!

TSA is security theater - nothing more, nothing less. Reinforced cockpit doors and the knowledge that passengers will never again be willingly hijacked without resisting have done more to prevent another 9-11 style attack than TSA, 3-1-1, or DHS ever could hope to.

Posted by: nocando | May 19, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

What a complete non-issue. So 23 TSA employees have been removed since 2007 for stealing? I would imagine the number of McDonalds workers removed for embezzlement since 2007 is much higher. Maybe we should publish sensational news stories on that as well.

Most TSA screeners make pretty decent money (for an airport worker) and have pretty decent benefits. Most are not in a hurry to screw that up. So ease up, people. They aren't interested in nor do they care about taking your stuff.

Posted by: steve80 | May 19, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

"Posted by: wheeljc: Folks, this is what we get for turning out homeland security over to a bureaucracy!! For Pete's sake -- Napalitono has not guessed right on anything yet -- much less managing TSA!! Here -- we see a bunch of folks who are not supervised, taking advantage of those who may not be able to fight back -- JUST LIKE THE REST OF TEAM OBAMA!!

HOW DO YOU LIKE THIS CHANGE NOW??"
-------------
This isn't about Obama or the DHS. It is about a thief that got hired by the TSA. Before TSA, the same thieves worked for Private Contractors. It won't change no matter who is in charge or who is working the front lines. Don't you know someone who stole from work or had something stolen at work? Why do so many people have to politicize everything?

Posted by: jgmann | May 19, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

It's all about quality. You get what you pay for.

Posted by: maus92 | May 19, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Quoting 'nocando' = TSA is security theater - nothing more, nothing less. Reinforced cockpit doors and the knowledge that passengers will never again be willingly hijacked without resisting have done more to prevent another 9-11 style attack than TSA, 3-1-1, or DHS ever could hope to.
-----------
I wish more people realized this. After 9-11 the entire nation's (possibly world's) attitude about how to deal with hijackers changed.

Posted by: egrichards1 | May 19, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

The now classic, Stanford Prison Experiment, provided proof that absolute power corrupts absolutely; and the more power you have, the more corrupt you act. TSA has been granted far too much power over travellers. However, until air travellers are willing to boycott flying, or better yet, stage sit-ins before the search stations, TSA will continue to violate their 4th amendment rights.

Posted by: mhoust | May 19, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Fact remains, we have seen airline terrorists coming from overseas locations, but not domestically. So, you can say all you want about what you think is the post 911 mindset, but it's just speculation. Now, I am all in favor of background checks on TSA employees, but believe the bad apple is an exception. You also have to balance costs vs. benefits. We employ thousands of TSA workers, so if you give everyone a CIA level background check, it's going to cost the taxpayers a lot of money. As for using private contractors, you've got to be kidding. That's nothing but mostly ex-cons. Look at the mall rent-a-cops and even the private guards in the power plants. They fall asleep all the time. It was the private one's that let 911 happen in the first place.

Posted by: magnifco1000 | May 19, 2010 2:03 PM | Report abuse

For those who are dismissing this incident as not indicative of a larger problem w/in the TSA, keep in mind, the 23 screeners fired for theft referenced in the article is just from JFK, not the entire country, & just since '07. Also, this is just the number who have actually been fired, this would not include those that are still in the termination process.

When the subject of theft by TSA screener comes up, the TSA has acknowledged somewhere in the neighborhood of nearly 1000 having been fired for stealing from passengers nationwide & those numbers are several years old now.

A background check will have no bearing on future bad behavior. The problem is the lack of accountability that permeates the agency as a whole which allows this behavior to continue. If you read some additional information on just this case, you will see the screener in question had a pretty well-rehersed method for getting this money out of this lady's purse-he knew how to get into her purse & get not only a white envelope out but also additional funds from a 2nd zippered compartment, w/o being seen. This means he's likely been doing this for quite some time w/other passengers but his luck ran out this time when the lady in question noticed the missing cash immediately.

Same holds true for the screener in Atlanta who stole the camera of a CNN camera man right of its carrying case-the passenger found it up for sale on eBay & notifed the FBI. I believe the FBI then determined this screener had made nearly $200K from selling merchandise on eBay that he stole from passengers. Another screener in Honolulu, as part of her recent plea agreement, turned in over 20 iPods she had stolen from the checkpoint but had yet to sell.

These are not isolated incidents & these are not 'bad apples'. This is the prevailing culture of the TSA. The same TSA that now wants to look at naked pictures of our children.

Posted by: txrus | May 19, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Some of my wife's favorite earrings(yup-diamonds!!) were "missing" after a flight we took back from Miami a couple of years back. Sure enough, the inspection/love note from the TSA was found in her totally messed up suitcase- she is the worlds most organized and neat packer. We are all so much safer now without her diamond earrings!!Of course we always carry on our bags when ever possible. The whole mess reminds me of one of Dennis Miller's rants about the TSA:"..and thanks for bringing the care and professionalism of the MVA to the airport." Can't stand the little Nazi TSA trolls-welfare to work has to be to blame for sure!!

Posted by: lsf07 | May 19, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't help that Republicans have kept TSA leaderless by blocking Obama's nominees. Also, TSA has a one year probationary period where they can fire anyone on the spot. Some Republicans have tried to play up issues with TSA to attack Obama or because they oppose collective bargaining rights for TSA employees. But, the fact is, making TSA more professional and giving it a good leader would improve the organization.

Posted by: magnifco1000 | May 19, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

The irony is that this TSA agent will get more time in jail than the likes of many multimillion dollar embezzelers like Conrad Black. It is also a fact that they are underpaid. This is no justification. I know of money that went missing from a motor home at a U.S. border crossing. The person didn't notice it until that evening.

Posted by: fransh | May 19, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

POLL: Back when George DUHbya signed an order for the biggest expansion of federal government in our history, (DHS) did you think it would be efficient?

Was it necessary?


Posted by: lquarton | May 19, 2010 10:52 PM | Report abuse

Folks, this is what we get for turning out homeland security over to a bureaucracy!! For Pete's sake -- Napalitono has not guessed right on anything yet -- much less managing TSA!! Here -- we see a bunch of folks who are not supervised, taking advantage of those who may not be able to fight back -- JUST LIKE THE REST OF TEAM OBAMA!!

HOW DO YOU LIKE THIS CHANGE NOW??

Posted by: georgephotoman | May 20, 2010 12:19 AM | Report abuse

Folks, this is what we get for turning out homeland security over to a bureaucracy!! For Pete's sake -- Napalitono has not guessed right on anything yet -- much less managing TSA!! Here -- we see a bunch of folks who are not supervised, taking advantage of those who may not be able to fight back -- JUST LIKE THE REST OF TEAM OBAMA!!

HOW DO YOU LIKE THIS CHANGE NOW??

Posted by: georgephotoman | May 20, 2010 12:30 AM | Report abuse

How many times did he steal and not get caught? Most people are in a hurry to get on a plane and won't miss any losses until they are thousands of miles away.

This sap was bold (and stupid enough) to fark with a disabled person. We're smarter than you think.

Good work, Mother.

Posted by: OldenAtwoody | May 20, 2010 7:31 AM | Report abuse

Why blame the lower ranks, when you've had SEVERAL federal security directors (FSD) commit theft, fraud, misuse of government vehicles, discuss SSI over an unsecure phone line from a foreign country, harass and discriminate against federal employees, kiss the industries butts (rather than enforce federal regulations), violate directives from Congress... and when caught, do not charge them with the crimes, but pay for their move (when they will not pay for other moves) to another airport with the same pay and title. Why are GS-15's and SES's pulled from positions, put in a corner to do nothing and keep the same pay? On and on and on.

Posted by: XenaUSofA | May 20, 2010 8:49 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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