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Four TSA screeners charged with taking bribes, passing drugs through LAX checkpoints

TSA baggage X-ray at LAX.
TSA baggage X-ray at LAX. Brian Watt/KPCC

Souvenir snow globes will cause tsuris for the TSA, but mass quantities of cocaine have been blowing through LAX checkpoints without as much as a sneeze, it was revealed on Wednesday.

Two current and two former TSA screeners at Los Angeles International Airport have been arrested and indicted on drug conspiracy charges following a trafficking probe. 

In all, seven people face drug-related charges in a 22-count grand jury indictment that was unsealed today in a Los Angeles federal court.

The TSA agents allegedly allowed and arranged for large amounts of cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and other drugs to pass easily through security screenings last year. Other charges include paying and receiving bribes by a government official.

According to the indictment there were five coordinated incidents where TSA screeners conspired to let suitcases of drugs slip through X-ray machines undetected via drug couriers or an undercover operative working with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

In some cases, screeners were paid in exchange for their cooperation via cash handoffs in airport bathrooms.

One related drug courier is already in state custody, another is expected to surrender tomorrow, and a third alleged courier is being pursued, say officials.

Randy Parsons, director of TSA security at LAX, is disappointed about the arrests, but says they are committed to holding employees to the highest standards.

According to the official news release from the Department of Justice, the indictment includes the following names, details, and charges:

Naral Richardson, 30, of Los Angeles

  • Arrested Wednesday morning.
  • Terminated by TSA in 2010.
  • Accused of orchestrating five incidents in which TSA screeners agreed to waive narcotics through security checkpoints. 
  • He 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.
  • If convicted, Richardson faces mandatory minimum sentences of at least 10 years, and he potentially faces life without parole in federal prison. 
  • Each bribery count also carries a statutory maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

 

John Whitfield, 23, of Los Angeles

  • Arrested Tuesday night.
  • TSA screener who allegedly worked with Richardson to allow nearly four kilograms of methamphetamine to pass through LAX security.
  • Also accused of personally allowing more than 20 kilograms of cocaine to pass through LAX security. Charged in a conspiracy involving about four kilograms of methamphetamine, as well as substantive drug possession charges involving marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine. 
  • Named as the recipient of six bribes. 
  • If he is convicted, Whitfield faces a mandatory minimum prison term of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

 

Joy White, 27, of Compton

  • Arrested Wednesday morning.
  • Terminated by TSA last year. 
  • Allegedly was stationed at LAX screening checkpoints when she allowed drugs to pass through, including a shipment of more than 20 kilograms of cocaine. 
  • Charged in three narcotics conspiracies - involving a total of about 25 kilograms of cocaine and about 22 kilograms of marijuana - as well as three substantive drug possession counts.  
  • Also charged with one count of receiving a bribe. 
  • If convicted, White would face a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 10 years and could be sentenced to as much as life in prison.

 

Capeline McKinney, 25, of Los Angeles

  • Arrested Wednesday morning. 
  • TSA screener who allegedly allowed more than 20 kilograms of cocaine to pass through her security checkpoint. 
  • Charged in a cocaine conspiracy involving 20 kilograms of the drug, as well as a substantive drug possession charge.
  • Also charged with one count of receiving a bribe. 
  • If convicted, McKinney faces a mandatory minimum prison term of 10 years and a potential sentence of life imprisonment.

 

Duane Eleby, 28, of Downey

  • Expected to surrender to authorities Thursday morning. 
  • Allegedly attempted to bring almost five kilograms of cocaine through a security checkpoint, but his narcotics were seized by law enforcement when he went through the wrong security checkpoint. Charged in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine, as well as possession with the intent to distribute nearly five kilograms of cocaine. 
  • If convicted, Eleby faces a five-year mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum statutory sentence of 40 years in prison.

 

Terry Cunningham, 28, of Los Angeles

  • An alleged drug courier, who is currently being sought by authorities. 
  • Charged in a conspiracy involving 22 kilograms of marijuana, as well as possession with intent to distribute marijuana. 
  • If convicted, Cunningham would face up to five years in federal prison.

 

Stephen Bayliss, 28, of Los Angeles

  • An alleged drug courier, who is currently is state custody. 
  • Charged in a conspiracy involving 22 kilograms of marijuana, as well as possession with intent to distribute marijuana. 
  • If convicted, Bayliss would face up to five years in federal prison.

 

Lisa Brenner can be reached via Twitter @lisa_brenner

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