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TSA Screeners Indicted For Allegedly Taking Bribes For Drug Shipments

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LOS ANGELES (CBS) — An indictment unsealed Wednesday accuses two current and two ex-security screeners at Los Angeles International Airport with taking cash payments to allow large shipments of cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine to pass through X-ray machines at airport security checkpoints.

The federal indictment also includes charges against three alleged drug couriers, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

KNX 1070’s Ron Kilgore reports three of the screeners were working at LAX while the alleged crimes took place last year, while a fourth agent allegedly set things up to get it through security.

In addition to the current and former Transportation Security Administration officials, one alleged drug courier is currently in state custody, and another suspected drug courier is expected to surrender Thursday.

Authorities are searching for another alleged drug courier named in the 22-count grand jury indictment, prosecutors said.

The indictment outlines five specific incidents in which current and former TSA employees allegedly took payments of as much as $2,400 to allow suitcases filled with drugs to pass through X-ray machines at LAX while federal screeners looked the other way.

“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 U.S. Attorney Andre 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.”

Those named in the indictment include: Naral Richardson, 30, of Los Angeles; John Whitfield, 23, of Los Angeles; Joy White, 27, of Compton; Capeline McKinney, 25, of Los Angeles; Duane Eleby, 28, of Downey; Terry Cunningham, 28, of Los Angeles; and Stephen Bayliss, 28, of Los Angeles.

All of the defendants who were arrested Tuesday and today were arraigned on the indictment later today Los Angeles federal court.

Officials told Cristy Fajardo, reporting for CBS2 and KCAL9, that Cunningham and another man were on the run. A DEA officials also told her that all the suspects at some point have been affiliated with gangs.

Authorities told Fajardo that the set-up was in operation for at least six months.

Counter-terrorism expert Philip Little isn’t surprised. “This is a major problem.” He adds, the real question is, “How many do we not know about?”

He believes if the TSA doesn’t offer better pay and training, more scandals like this are sure to occur.

If convicted of all charges in the indictment, the current and former TSA officials each face potential multiple-year prison sentences up to life behind bars, prosecutors said.

(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Wire services contributed to this report.)

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