back to article Airport baggage screener charged with stealing passengers' stuff

A baggage screener for the US Transportation Security Administration has confessed to brazenly stealing a trove of electronics gear from the luggage of passengers he was sworn to protect, federal prosecutors said. Pythias Brown, 48, of Maplewood, New Jersey, regularly sold the high-priced video cameras, laptop computers, and …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's Like Roaches

    Where you see one, a dozen more are hiding.

    Friend of mine got his brand new MacBook Air stolen at Dulles, so you can be assured Brown ain't alone in this.

  2. Chris G Silver badge

    Opening bids please

    Set of Gucci luggage, 3 cases complete with holiday underwear for a female/ pole dancer.

  3. iamzippy

    Perp NARU'd, Natch

    Jeezus H already.

    Imagine how much of this is actually happening. Like, at Thiefrow.

    And these f*cktards think they got 'a good idea?' Smart thing to do?

    WT flaming F?

  4. Darling Petunia

    Crooks and EBay

    EBay as a tool of crooks has been going on since it's beginnings. EBay's relationship with law enforcement had been strained in the past as far a getting info on sellers.

    Crooks working for the TSA are also a familiar problem due to poor hiring processes and lack of proper surveillance in back room areas. Most photographers know to carry-on gear, or use locked bags (of course, with the mandatory TSA openable locks).

    Accountability is the key at TSA and Ebay.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    So...

    Let me get this right.

    I turn up at the airport and TSA treat me like a piece of shit. I'm treated like a criminal, like a potential terrorist.

    Meanwhile the real criminal is stealing my cameras...

    And if he can walk OUT of the airport with $48,000 of camera kit what is to stop him walking in with a bomb and putting it INTO my luggage?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    clear throat, here it comes.....

    Investigators searching Brown's home recovered 66 cameras, 31 laptops, 20 cell phones, 17 electronic games, 13 pieces of jewelry, 12 global positioning systems, 11 MP3 players, eight camera lenses, six video cameras, and two DVD players.

    and outside in the yard was a partrige in a pear tree .....maybe ??

  7. Pete Silver badge

    what's more shocking?

    that airport employees steal from passengers or that stolen gear gets sold on ebay?

    footnote: if you really thought that neither of these happens everywhere on a daily basis, you've never:

    a) flown anywhere and been subject to "security" taking off you anything they choose

    b) used ebay

    No doubt the next revelation will be about the journalist who embellished a story, or the cop who let someone off because his/her shift was due to end and they didn't fancy staying to do the paperwork.

  8. Jim Westrich

    I hate to say I told you so but . . .

    One thing I never understood in the "security" calculation was the simple fact that more hands on other people's stuff means more stuff stolen (I once had something stolen by baggage handlers). People try to argue that the security theater is "harmless" even if it is wasteful but I disagree, it is hardly harmless.

  9. Darling Petunia

    Forgot to add

    Mr. McCain, that fearsome candidate for US President, looks forward to appointing former EBay CEO Meg Whitman, as his Treasury Secretary. All that financial knowledge, no doubt.

    http://blogs.wsj.com/frontlines/2008/10/08/of-note-meg-whitman-for-treasury-secretary/?mod=googlenews_wsj

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Thieving TSA

    Of course, if one catches a TSA agent nicking your kit you'll get sent to Gitmo for having the temerity to notice...

    Oops, correction: Of course, if one catches a TSA agent mislaying your kit you'll get sent to Gitmo for having the temerity for questioning the loyal agents of our Dear Leader and his Glorious New Order. Any questions you terrorist-pinko-commie-sympathizer? We thought not.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Top reason to NOT use them TSA Suitcase locks

    I knew I never liked the idea of a TSA locks on my stuff. I certainly wont have one in future - feckem, they can bust their way in and ill know as soon as I collect my case, followed by my arrest for questioning the TSA. Hey Gitmo has good weather this time of year, and I dont have one of those stamps in my Terrorport - similar to a USA passport but a different colour so I get 'Selected for Special Attention' everytime, for being a foreign terrorist that I am. I love them TSA chaps, they are so nice to us foreigners. The only good thing about the USA is that most of the citizens are NOT like the TSA tosser theifs.

    The shocking thing is that this chap only gets 10 years max.

    And worse still, what about the chap that 'screens' staff as they enter and leave the 'secure area'... this chap had an accomplice (other than Uncle SAM)!

  12. Will
    Coat

    sounds like

    The only thing they didn't find was "fiiivvve gooolllden riiings"

    the one with the holly in the pocket...

  13. Jean-Luc Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    10 yrs???? How much $ is that gonna cost?

    So, basically this wanker does some petty stealing. And he could get 10 yrs for it? Don't the US taxpayers have something better to do with their money, like bailing out poor bankers? Or sending failed banks' CEOs to jail, if there was fraud?

    In many countries 10 yrs == penalty for not-extremely-gory murder. This guy should go to jail, but 1 yr tops. As a taxpayer, I would hate for my money to be spent locking up petty crooks for 10 yrs. Hopefully the judge will see the light, but why write such stupid guidelines in the 1st place?

    Not as over the top as the teen who is liable for 20 yrs of jail for sending nudie pix of herself to her boyfriend, but still a waste.

    Paris - 'cause it doesn't make sense to her either.

  14. Andrew Moore
    Thumb Down

    It's been going on for years...

    I had a Psion Series 5a stolen from my luggage while travelling from Newark to Vancouver. I was told to put it into my hold luggage because it presented a danger to the flight (it had an InfraRed port which would allow me to take over the flying of the aircraft apparently). When trying to claim for the unit I was bounced between airports, baggage handling companies and various insurance agencies- I eventually gave up 6 months later.

  15. J Ford

    expensive kit...

    His mistake was ripping off journalists and important people that the police will actually listen to and investigate their complaints. Friends who have seen their stolen possessions on eBay have never had any interest from the police in investigating the theft, even when they've bid on and won their own items and got the scumbag's address.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nice

    "a $48,000 Hasselblad camera and accompanying lenses disappeared from bags that passed through TSA screening"

    at least he has good taste. Also, the article makes it sound like a federal investigator happened to buy those products and in his spare time, he chose to investigate the serial numbers.

    My 4step money making =

    1)Take a low pay job

    2)Make sure you have access to high value items/info

    3 ?????(ebay)????

    4)Profit

    Basic issues.

  17. Joe Harrison
    Joke

    The Twelve

    days of border patrol..

    On the fist day of thieving my husband stole for me...

  18. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Flame

    Cleary, some TSA guys are not content....

    ...with hoovering up taxes to get paid for their useless jobs.

    So they gotta "live off the land".

    Like irregular forces.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Nice

    Exactly, low paying job, struggle to feed your family = incentive to steal.

    Ten years? I don't think so. An AFL footballer from my country Australia, with similar form at home, while in Florida, bashed his girlfriend then when the cops came to arrest him, assaulted both officers and resisted arrest. His penalty?, 50 hrs community service and a fat donation to some "police fund". So what will our TSA guy get? If he squirreled away his cash from his illegal "economic stimulus" and wants to donate it to a "police fund", he will back at the airport soon. Otherwise, knowing what the US justice system is like from the informed reporters in the tabloid press, it is the electric chair for him.

  20. Scott
    Flame

    Watch the Watcher

    CCTV at the Post Office, evidently not at the airport where bags are rifled. I pay for a ticket. I am treated like a criminal, searched, and compelled to check my luggage rather than carry it on because somebody decided too many ounces of toothpaste is a threat.

    Those I am forced to let open my luggage far out of my view are not monitored closely while they do it. Nor are they searched on their way out of the airport--where they work and get paid--to thwart theft from luggage. In short, I pay and get scrutinized and searched. These cretin get paid and are not monitored or searched.

    If they can sneak something as large as a laptop out of my luggage and out of the airport, does anyone truly believe they could not easily sneak a bomb or contraband into luggage and on to the plane?

  21. Herby Silver badge

    Just make sure things are "secure"

    I have a bunch of small cable ties of a unique color that I "seal" my luggage with. It becomes immediately obvious when they are opened. I also put inside a nice sheet of paper that says "sealed and inventoried" (not in radio-opaque ink!) so if the luggage does get opened, the TSA employee will KNOW they are "being watched". Yes, they can break the simple cable ties but then they know that I KNOW as well. I believe that this is a bit of a deterrent but not having anything ebayed from my luggage I'll never know.

    The TSA locks are really a BAD idea. They seem to imply that there is something valuable inside!

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    Re: Cable Ties

    How do you get your cable ties off when you reach your destination? You aren't even allowed to have nail scissors in hand luggage now...

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    lol @ Thiefrow

    Thanks for the laugh of the day

  24. Tam Lin

    The article is confusing and misleading.

    To clarify, Mr. Brown was arrested because:

    1) He failed to give Go^H^HSecretary Chertoff his taste.

    2) CNN is a made member of the Bush administration.

    The arrest does NOT affect and in NO WAY do Mr. Brown actions reflect on the majority of loyal, law-exempted, patriotic American criminals working for the TSA. No other alleged members of the Homeland family were indicted.

  25. vincent himpe

    penalty ;

    stuff guy in luggage , send repeatedly through high dosage xray scanner , then let the baggage loaders toss the suitcase around for a while.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Could be worse.......

    I recall a story from a few years ago where an Australian tourist was arrest for "importing" marijuana into I think it was the Philippines. Her lawyer was certain it was a baggage inspector who was smuggling drugs via her luggage, just his partner on the other side missed the pickup, and she got left holding the bag and 20 years.

    However, because of the possibility of things like theft is why I always carry my baggage onboard and travel light. It also makes me wonder about the haphazard security at airports. Little podunk places will run you through a bomb sniffer and inspect your luggage with a hand scanner, while big cities wave you through the metal detector, just remember your boarding pass. What's up with that?

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The solution: Fly with a gun.

    Most airlines allow it. FAA requires that you pack your firearm (or even a firearm component) in a hard sided case - a gigantic storage crate is a valid case for a gun. Added bonus: You can put whatever else you want in the case with it: Clothes, electronics, etc. etc. So if you get a big enough case, you can replace your luggage with it. Pelican makes nice ones with luggage-style rollers, too.

    The case has to be locked with a REAL padlock - and the only key (or the combination) stays in your custody in the cabin of the aircraft.

    The way the procedure works is that you walk up to the check-in desk, declare that you've packed a firearm. The check-in agent will summon the TSA, who will take you to one of their private screening cubicles, ask you to unlock the case, hand-screen it right in front of you, have you relock the case, and hand-screen you and your carryon and he will make DAMN CERTAIN the key is WITH YOU. Only then will he summon a ramp agent from your airline who will take your case away and place it aboard the aircraft. Theft from a firearms-labeled case is a MUCH HUGER DEAL and a federal crime, rather than simple petty theft - so it's totally unheard-of. They are also very careful to make sure the case makes the right flights.

    Net effect: You jump the security line, your luggage is screened in your presence, your luggage will be at your destination, you don't have to fight the crowd around the baggage carousel (your bag is available for pickup in the airline's baggage office, typically before the carousel even starts moving, because special handling luggage such as that is loaded directly next to the door and is the first thing to come off), nobody will want to steal from your luggage, and if they wanted to, it would be much more difficult because it's a hard-sided box with a beefy lock on it.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    Kleptards

    Are everywhere. The plods only catch the greedy or stupid pilftards, the rest are still fondling your luggage contents with sticky fingers.

    Where's me cloak? It was the one with the Hasselblad in the pocket....clickety... ah there it is on the world's tat bazaar!

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    More than one?

    Multiple global positioning systems? Have other countries been sending 'em up when I wasn't looking?

  30. Moss Icely Spaceport
    Black Helicopters

    Crooked employees meet Tat Bazaar

    Tat Bazaar meet crooked employees...

    A match made in the First Class lounge!

  31. Chris G Silver badge

    A small Question

    So TSA stands for ? Thief Support Agency?

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    numbers

    Just a rough calculation:

    "Investigators searching Brown's home recovered 66 cameras, 31 laptops..." (186 stolen Items)

    "His eBay feedback profile contains 205 positive reviews" (Another ~200 stolen items?)

    "He admitted to stole two to three items per week."

    So, perhaps 300 complaints over 6 months? That's customer service.

    Very good point above: if he can stake stuff out, he can put stuff in.

  33. Simon Painter
    Unhappy

    It's not just the TSA, it's all baggage handler sorts

    I flew back from Prague and my sony hd video camera was swiped. If you're flying don't put anything in the hold that you value because the feckers can't be trusted.

    The fact that it was a TSA employee rather than a baggage handler makes no difference in this case, once you part with your bags you expect them to be looked after until they are given back to you.

  34. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge
    Coat

    @David Wiernicki

    Err yes, it's called Galileo.

  35. Andrew Moore

    @David Wiernicki

    Yep- it's called GNSS. Russia has had the GLONASS system up nearly as long as the American GPS. China launched a minimum complement of BEIDOU in time for the Olympics- this system will be extended and will be known as COMPASS. India is quite far into the IRNSS project and even Europe has managed to get a couple of Galileo sats into orbit.

  36. DZ-Jay

    Re: The solution: Fly with a gun

    Sounds like a terrific idea! But I would think that carrying a gun on board would automatically put you into one of those "lists", which means that your security checks (and perhaps even your on-board presence) will demand more close scrutiny from everyone; which may undermine the conveniences you mentioned.

    -dZ.

  37. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    @David

    Yep, there's GLONASS and Galileo (sorta) for starters...

  38. h

    eBay feedback

    Looking at this chaps feedback, you can certainly see he has sold one or two very nice bits of kit in the last few months.

    http://feedback.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewFeedback2&userid=alirla&ftab=AllFeedback&_trksid=p3911.c0.m198

    I assume that the police will be contacting all the buyers to return the goods.

    When they do, will the buyers be able to claim back form PayPal/eBay under the buyer protection system?

    H

  39. Graham Marsden

    So how about...

    ... all the baggage handling staff have to leave work via the main concourse wearing a sign saying "Baggage Handler" and any of the airline travelling public can, at their whim, call them aside and search them, just in case they might have nicked something...

    Sounds fair?

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    Ebay

    ..should be made to pay back all monies relating to the sale of a stolen item and maybe then they might actually start looking at suspicious accounts.

  41. andy gibson
    Unhappy

    @iamzippy & "thiefrow"

    If you saw Channel 4's "Dispatches" this week you'll find that BA just don't return the bags. They hold on to them for a couple of months, claim they can't find the owner, then sell them at auction for £60.

  42. W
    Thumb Up

    @ "h", re: "eBay feedback"

    >"I assume that the police will be contacting all the buyers to return the goods. When they do, will the buyers be able to claim back form PayPal/eBay under the buyer protection system?"

    ...Indeed. If eBay/PayPal aren't willing to re-imburse the buyer in such situations then it seriously undermines their whole "buyer/seller" protection schtick.

  43. W
    Alert

    cast-iron case

    >"186 stolen Items [&] 205 positive reviews" - AC 07:56

    >"Brown told investigators he began stealing the items in September 2007" - Reg

    So he was basically nicking something, on average, every day of the week (i.e. Mon-Fri + weekends)!!!

    A year of nicking bulky stuff from work without getting caught. Every single day for one year. Without getting caught by his employers.

    And in the end it took an HBO employee to do the dirty work of the research, followed by investigators simply cleaning up with IP with address details and CCTV footage in order to put together a cast-iron case (no pun intended).

    I'm not surprised that this goes on. But at that frequency by one person without being pulled up on it by his "security professional" employers.

    Incredible.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    Re: So...

    In the USA - nothing.

    You do not have the culture of making sure your "baggage handlers" do not steal. This is a natural consequence of many years when the baggage was left more or less untouched through a USA airport. For example I had suitcases with a fairly lethal air rifle variety loaded as hand luggage by handlers because I was late for a connecting flight 20 years ago. If I wanted, I could have just walked down the isle and taken it out. That was the norm, not the exemption all the way till 2001.

    In Europe however, we have had many years of "inspection" and accompanying theft. I have had things stolen by customs inspectors (or with their assistance) on a regular basis for years.

    As a result most EU airports nowdays have the baggage handling and customs inspections areas stuffed with CCTV to the hilt to make sure that the "inspectors" do not steal.

    Having the CCTV put in costed a lot of effort and trade unions fought with tooth and nail against it, but it has happened and it is there to stay. On top of that the handlers themselves have to go through the same security as passengers. As a result, it is quite difficult to steal anything in most EU airports. While theft stil happens, it tends to be really small items like mobiles, wallets, cards, etc. A professional camera is practically "off the menu". It is too big to sneak past the surveilance.

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    STRING HIM UP!!

    This is why photographers like myself do NOT check camera equipment into the hold on flights from the US. We'll rather look like fat, overdressed, overburdened people than have £10,000 in equipment disappear into the work bag of scum like this man.

    He deserves 10 years.

  46. Dapprman
    Thumb Down

    Don't forget you are NOT allowed to lock your cases when leaving the USA

    It was always going to be on the cards that some thing like this would happen. US airports have/had a terrible reputation for things walking from unlocked luggage, so as soon as they started insisting you left your locks off you just knew you were at risk.

    I for one have always put my valuables in my hand luggage.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    Always a risk on ebay

    I remember buying an electrical item on ebay. I thought I was being cautious buy only bidding for items from long term traders with large scores.

    Got a phone call from New Scotland Yard the day after the item arrived. Turned out the seller was a major international fence with 3 separate accounts.

  48. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    I hate to burst your bubble

    But this type of theft has been going on for far longer than TSA has been around. It's been routine in the US to have bags (locked or unlocked) broken into, cut or otherwise and have any valuables stolen out of them. There is essentially no effective recourse and the airlines and FAA have avoided any talk of doing anything like the plague. It's only worse now that the TSA monkeys have their fingers in your pants (literally and figuratively). You don't know how many airports had ex-cons working there and when they decided in their police-state mentality that they needed greater security there was a scramble to figure out what to do with all the current employees. So the airlines are run by theftards and employ theftards and the TSA is run by retards and employs more theftards. I like driving, myself.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmmm

    making e-bay pay back for some else being a thief ??? If I buy a car from a cop I'm not thinking its stolen. Depending on the Item how do you prove its not stolen ??? Sure things have serials but most people dont write them down. Show me away that ebay can stop all stolen goods.

    Were I live its coon to go to a flea market and find counterfeit items, stolen items . Oh yeah the local flea market, its run by the city and is at the county fair grounds. They still have not stopped stolen goods from showing up there . Not supporting e-bay but I would love to know how to stop stolen goods from showing up there when the local police cant stop stolen goods from showing up at a city run event.

  50. Wize

    Re all the 'if he can sneek this out, can't he sneek a bomb in?'

    They don't check people leaving an airport for bombs.

  51. natmangee
    Pirate

    Top secrets??

    judging by the type of people hes been stealing off.. maybe one of the laptops hes got comes with a free copy of 2.5million peoples adresses, bank acc numbers, top secret CIA hitlists, guantanamo door passcodes etc etc etc.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Alien

    I'm with AC@20:05

    They seriously dont have any CCTV pointed at the baggage handlers? Are you kidding me?

    I've never understood how baggage could go missing on a trip. Airports are one of the most watched places with the highest security, yet hundreds of bags routinely go missing without a trace?? Do any people go missing in airports??

    "Yes hello, my Mum hasn't come back home yet. She was last seen going through Manchester airport on a conveyor belt"

    "Okay we can confirm that your mother was collected and scanned on arrival however we have no further information as to her whereabouts. We've looked everywhere but it's just one of those things. (reluctantly) Would you like a claim form?"

    "Oh okay. What is the maximum I can claim? £100!! My mum was worth at least £200"

    I'm wondering how he managed to nonchalantly walk away from his working area with what is obviously someone's personal/professional items. Why would an airport worker be walking around with a $48,000 camera in his/her hands?? Then a simiar situation the next day. No one got suspicious?

    I can't believe how stupid he was to sell it on ebay though, and especially the same day!! Don't you also think his username sounds suspiciously like the word airline? No...just me then...

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