Federal agents arrested two former and two current Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners on narcotics and bribery charges for allegedly taking cash payments to allow large shipments of cocaine, methamphetamine, and marijuana to pass through X-ray machines at security checkpoints.
Agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration also arrested three drug couriers named in a 22-count grand jury indictment.
The indictment outlines five specific incidents in which current and former TSA employees took payments of as much as $2,400 to allow suitcases filled with drugs to pass through X-ray machines while TSA screeners looked the other way.
The operation's ringleader appears to be Naral Richardson, 30, who was terminated by TSA in 2010. Richardson allegedly orchestrated five incidents in which TSA screeners waived narcotics through security checkpoints.
Also arrested were screener John Whitfield, 30; Joy White, 27, who was terminated in 2010; and screener Capeline McKinney, 25.
Whitfield allegedly allowed nearly four kilograms of methamphetamine and more than 20 kilograms of cocaine to pass through LAX security. White allegedly allowed a shipment of more than 20 kilograms of cocaine to pass through. McKinney allegedly allowed more than 20 kilograms of cocaine to pass through her security checkpoint.
Three couriers were indicted including Duane Eleby, 28; Terry Cunningham, 28; and Stephen Bayliss, 28. Eleby was arrested when he attempted to bring almost five kilograms of cocaine through the wrong security checkpoint.
If convicted, the defendants face a potential sentence of life imprisonment. These incidents occurred from February to July of 2011. In one incident, Richardson and White allegedly agreed that Eleby would bring 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. In the final incident outlined in the indictment, Richardson and Whitfield allegedly conspired with the DEA's confidential source to allow 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.
Richardson is charged in five narcotics conspiracies, five substantive counts of possession with the intent to distribute narcotics, and two counts of offering bribes to public officials.
Whitfield is charged in a conspiracy involving about four kilograms of methamphetamine, as well as substantive drug possession charges involving marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Whitfield is also named as the recipient of six bribes.
White is charged in three narcotics conspiracies—involving about 25 kilograms of cocaine and about 22 kilograms of marijuana—as well as three substantive drug possession counts. White is also charged with one count of receiving a bribe.
McKinney is charged in a cocaine conspiracy involving 20 kilograms of the drug, as well as a substantive drug possession charge and one count of receiving a bribe.
Eleby is charged in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, as well as possession with the intent to distribute nearly five kilograms of cocaine. Cunningham and Bayliss are each in a conspiracy involving 22 kilograms of marijuana, as well as possession with intent to distribute marijuana.
Local agencies who participated in the investigation included 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.