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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Airport Security Officers Charged in Drug Case

Airport Security Officers Charged in Drug Case
The New York Times by Kristin Hussey - September 13, 2011

STAMFORD, Conn. — Three Transportation Security Administration officers have been charged with accepting bribes to let couriers smuggle painkillers and cash undetected through security checkpoints at airports in New York and Florida, federal prosecutors said Tuesday. The officers, one stationed at Westchester County Airport and two others at Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, were responsible for screening passengers and carry-on bags for commercial airline flights between the two airports. The officers — Brigitte Jones, 48, of the Bronx; Christopher Allen, 45, of Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.; and John Best, 30, of Port St. Lucie, Fla. — were each charged with conspiring to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute oxycodone. Officer Jones’s lawyer, William Bloss, said that he anticipated a not-guilty plea, but that he had not yet been able to review the evidence in the case. Efforts to reach lawyers for Officer Best on Tuesday night were not successful. Prosecutors said they did not know who was representing Officer Allen. The federal officers were among 20 people who were arrested, most on Monday and Tuesday, after a five-month investigation. Prosecutors say couriers carried thousands of pain pills from Florida to Connecticut, where they were sold for a higher price, and then returned to Florida with large amounts of cash. Two other law enforcement officers — Michael T. Brady, 36, a Westchester County police officer; and Justin Kolves, 28, a Florida state trooper — were also arrested and charged with the same offenses as the T.S.A. officers. Prosecutors say that between November 2010 and April 2011, the security officers allowed drug couriers to carry the strong prescription narcotic oxycodone and large amounts of cash onto dozens of commercial airline flights between Westchester County and West Palm Beach and that the officers accepted cash and gift cards as bribes. The officers were paid about $500 each time they let someone through the checkpoint for a flight, prosecutors said. On each trip, the drug couriers carried 6,000 to 8,000 pills. David B. Fein, the United States attorney for Connecticut, called the accusations unsettling, given the importance of T.S.A. officers’ screening responsibilities. “In these times, no one needs to be reminded about how dangerous it is when officers who have sworn to uphold the law accept money to ‘look the other way,’ ” he said in a statement. On one occasion, a witness wearing a police wire sought advice from Officer Jones about how best to smuggle a handgun through security and coordinated with her to make sure Officer Jones could guide him through the screening checkpoint at the Westchester airport, in Harrison, N.Y., according to a prosecutor’s affidavit used to obtain arrest warrants. The three agents under arrest are no longer performing security operations, said a spokesman for the security agency, Greg Soule. But he would not say whether the agents have been suspended or are still being paid, citing the continuing investigation. In a statement, the T.S.A. said it “holds its security officers to the highest professional and ethical standards and has a zero-tolerance policy for criminal activity in the workplace.” Prosecutors said that Officer Brady, a Westchester County police officer stationed at the airport in Harrison, accepted bribes totaling $20,000 in the case. On one trip from Harrison, Officer Brady, 36, of Thornwood, N.Y., an 11-year veteran of the force, ordered T.S.A. officials to stop questioning a man about $100,000 in cash he was carrying, according to the prosecutor’s affidavit. He has suspended been without pay. A phone message left at his home on Tuesday night was not returned.

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