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TSA luggage theft at LAX: How common is this?

June 24, 2011|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
(Danny Moloshok / Reuters )

In the last two months, two U.S. Transportation Security Administration officers have been arrested on suspicion of stealing from passenger luggage at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) -- incidents that leave me worrying about how often such theft happens. Judging from official statistics, it seems rare -- or maybe the culprits just don't get caught very often.

On Thursday, TSA officer Paul Yashou, 37, was arrested on suspicion of taking $30,000 worth of items from suitcases at the airport, according to this Daily Breeze story, which also said that a police search of Yashou's home turned up "numerous items belonging to LAX passengers."

TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said Yashou worked at Terminal 1, where the baggage screening area is in a very public lobby area near ticketing counters. (Side note: Having flown out of Terminal 1 many times, I wonder how the alleged pilfering could take place out of view of other TSA staffers or even passers-by.  Melendez said he didn't know either.)

Melendez declined to comment on Yashou's status with the agency because it's a pending personnel matter. He did say, however, that the TSA generally places officers suspected of stealing on "indefinite suspension" as a step prior to firing.

The arrest comes on the heels of TSA officer Ryan Driscoll being arrested in May on suspicion of stealing from a suitcase in Terminal 6. Driscoll no longer works for the TSA, Melendez said.

So what are the odds that a TSA employee will steal something from your bag? In the last decade, fewer than 500 out of the TSA's 150,000 employees have been arrested on suspicion of theft, Melendez said. That's about 0.3 % -- a pretty small number, though I suppose some might argue that it should be closer to zero.

In her recent On the Spot column, which cited a case involving a TSA screener in Kona, Hawaii, accused of stealing cash from luggage,Los Angeles Times Travel Editor Catharine Hamm wrote: "... TSA personnel aren't the only ones who touch checked bags; don't forget baggage handlers who work for the airlines."

So for anyone worried about packing valuables in their luggage, here's a straightforward solution: Don't do it.

"We've had reports of computers, cash, watches being stolen," Melendez said. "If you are traveling with valuables, put them in your carry-on or Fed-Ex them to your destination."

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