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Airport Cashiers Stole up to $250 an Hour, Witness Says

June 01, 1988|TERRY PRISTIN | Times Staff Writer

An undercover police detective observed cashiers at Los Angeles International Airport parking lots embezzle as much as $250 an hour by substituting low-price tickets for higher-value stubs and pocketing the difference, according to court documents made public Tuesday.

By wheeling shopping carts over sensors, the cashiers were able to obtain bogus tickets to be used in the alleged scheme, which also involved management personnel, the documents show.

More than 30 employees of Parking Concepts Inc., which operates the 25,000-space airport parking concession, were indicted May 19 on charges of embezzling city funds. Authorities have declined to disclose details of the case, which sources estimate involves a $2-million loss.

Affidavits filed in support of search warrants provide the first explanation of what led up to the indictments. They show that in response to an anonymous tip, Los Angeles Police Detective Ernie Lopez was assigned last year to undercover work for Parking Concepts.

Lopez, who began infiltrating the company last June, said he saw cashiers substitute $2 tickets for higher-priced tickets worth $100 or more, according to the affidavit. Working through their lunch hour, employees would help one another. As one blocked the fee display from the customer's view, the other would manipulate the cash register.

In addition, Lopez reported, cashiers used their spouses to spot travelers likely to have large parking bills--those with substantial amounts of luggage or particularly dusty cars. The airport charges $10 a day for parking.

Lopez, who was promoted to a supervisory position in October, received money every time he witnessed a cashier embezzling money, which led him to conclude that supervisors shared in the proceeds, the documents said.

The detective also said the cashiers, who earn about $7 an hour, confided in him about investments they had made in restaurants and car washes. ". . . It would be extremely difficult to purchase or set up a restaurant business when one's earnings are only $7 per hour," the affidavit said.

The workers complained to Lopez that a new $4-million computerized system designed to reduce stealing at the airport limited the amount they could embezzle, the documents show.

About $6 million was taken in 1984 in a similar scheme.

Twenty-three defendants pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Los Angeles Municipal Court to embezzlement charges and preliminary hearings were set for June and July. Three others were arraigned last week, and two more are scheduled to enter pleas on June 7.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Peter Berman declined comment on the remaining defendants.

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