Two current and two former Transportation Security Administration screeners at Los Angeles International Airport allegedly took cash payments in exchange for looking the other way while large shipments of cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana passed through X-ray machines at the airport, according to the United States Attorney's Office.
The screeners accepted as much as $2,400 each to allow suitcases filled with drugs to pass through checkpoints, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The drugs were intercepted by authorities each time.
A drug courier has also been arrested. A second drug courier is expected to surrender to authorities Thursday morning. A third drug courier is being actively sought.
A federal indictment was unsealed Wednesday morning. It outlines five incidents that occurred at LAX. The smuggling and bribery incidents allegedly took place from February 2011 through July 2011. The indictment is the result of a two-year undercover investigation.
In one instance, the courier failed to follow instructions and went through the wrong screening checkpoint with a bag containing about 5 kilograms of cocaine, which was seized.
In another instance, two TSA screeners agreed to a plan with a Drug Enforcement Administration "confidential source" to allow about 8 kilograms of methamphetamine through a checkpoint. After the bag successfully passed through, one of the TSA screeners met the confidential source and received $600 in cash, the second half of the agreed-upon $1,200 fee for allowing the smuggling.
Naral Richardson, 30, of Los Angeles, was arrested Wednesday morning. He is accused of orchestrating the incidents. He was terminated by the TSA in 2010.
John Whitfield, 23, of Los Angeles, was arrested Tuesday night. Whitfield, a TSA screener who allegedly worked with Richardson to allow nearly 4 kilograms of methamphetamine to pass through LAX security, is also accused of personally allowing more than 20 kilograms of cocaine to pass through LAX security.
Joy White, 27, of Compton, was arrested Wednesday morning. White was allegedly stationed at LAX screening checkpoints when she allowed drugs to pass through, including a shipment of more than 20 kilograms of cocaine. She was terminated by the TSA in 2011.
Capeline McKinney, 25, of Los Angeles, was arrested Wednesday morning. McKinney is a TSA screener who allegedly allowed more than 20 kilograms of cocaine to pass through her security checkpoint.
If 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.
Duane Eleby, 28, of Downey, is expected to surrender to authorities Thursday morning. Eleby allegedly attempted to bring almost 5 kilograms of cocaine through a security checkpoint, but his narcotics were seized by law enforcement when he went through the wrong security checkpoint.
Terry Cunningham, 28, of Los Angeles, an alleged drug courier, was being sought by authorities Wednesday.
Stephen Bayliss, 28, of Los Angeles, an alleged drug courier, was in state custody Wednesday.
"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."
"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."