LOS ANGELES – TSA agents at Los Angeles International were indicted on Wednesday for allegedly allowing shipments of cocaine, marijuana, and methamphetamine through airport security in exchange for bribes of up to $2,400, CBS News Los Angeles reported.
The US district attorney's office filed a 22-count indictment against the agents which detailed five instances of TSA employees taking payments from drug couriers in exchange for easy passage through LAX over a six-month period last year, the Associated Press reported.
US District Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said in a statement that the case represents a "significant breakdown of the screening system," and that the accused screeners "placed greed above the nation's security needs," the Los Angeles Times reported.
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Among those arrested and charged are Naral Richardson, 30, who was fired by TSA in 2010 for an unrelated matter and accused of orchestrating the smuggling scheme; John Whitfield, 23, a current TSA screener; Joy White, 27, who was terminated last year; and Capeline McKinney, 25, also a current screener, according to the AP. Three drug couriers — Duane Eleby, 28; Terry Cunningham, 28; and Stephen Bayliss, 28 — were also indicted.
All four screeners and one alleged smuggler have been taken into state custody, and could face up to life in prison if convicted, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Duane Eleby is expected to surrender to state officials on Thursday, according to CBS News.
The scheme was first unveiled to authorities when Eleby went to the wrong LAX terminal despite instructions from White, according to the Times. Upon investigation, officials discovered more widespread drug smuggling amongst TSA agents.
“This is a major problem," counter-terrorism expert Philip Little told CBS News. “How many do we not know about?”
In one case, Whitfield met a courier in an airport bathroom who paid him $600 for allowing nearly 8 pounds of meth through an X-ray machine, the Times reported. In another, McKinney let over 44 pounds of cocaine pass through her security checkpoint.
None of the drugs made it to their final destination, and were seized at the airport, authorities told reporters.
"While these arrests are a disappointment, TSA is committed to holding our employees to the highest standards," Randy Parsons, The TSA's security director at LAX, said in a statement, the Los Angeles Times reported. Parsons said the airport's TSA was assisting with the investigation.