Crackdown Continues on TSA's Luggage Looters

Investigation into workers stealing from passengers at MIA ongoing

Between long delays, the lousy food and the even lousier in-flight movies, airline travel couldn't get much worse, unless you happen to be going through Miami, where TSA workers charged with making our skies safer have instead turned to pilfering passengers' luggage.

"I was outraged at the time. It's like I felt really violated," said Lisa Manley, one of the several victims of the TSA's ring of thieves.

Manley had a wonderful vacation until she got off her Air Tran flight from Miami to Atlanta, only to find expensive items, including a $3,500 Roberto Cavalli purse and $5,500 dollars worth of jewelry gone, into thin air.

Miami-Dade Airport Detectives have spent months trying to break up the theft ring, already making several arrests and confiscating dozens of pricey stolen items.

Among the arrests are TSA workers Tony Defelis and Lithania Noukeo, both charged with grand theft after breaking the TSA's cardinal rule: serve and protect passengers, don't steal from them.

Recently added to the list was TSA worker Abigail Urbizo, accused of taking a passenger's cellphone out of the lost and found and fired under the zero tolerance TSA policy.

"We all, you know, swore to protect and we definitely feel that persons who have been given a position of trust that are supposed to be looking out for our good are doing so," said Sgt. Ariel Rodriguez, with the Miami-Dade Airport Police. "We have a dedicated team of detectives who follows up on these cases."

Sources say six TSA employees, two men and four women, were fired weeks ago for running the organized operation. One returned 31 passenger items, including an iPod, another brought back 25 stolen items, including jewelry and a camera after both were discovered.

Now detectives are trying to find more suspects while finding the rightful owners of the items, which include expensive watches, jewelry, cameras and other goods. They'll be prosecuted once the victims identify their belongings.

Little consolation for weary travellers made wearier by the thefts.

"That would be outrageous, that would be really bad if they take my things away," said MIA passenger Ignatio Navas. "I really expect them to only check though and protect myself, protect the airport."

Sgt. Rodriguez said the solution is simple.

"We just need to have people who are going to be honest and not take things from the bags," he said.

TSA spokesperson Sari Koshetz said that the administration has a zero tolerance for such behavior, and that "the action of a few individuals in no way reflects on the outstanding job our workforce does every day to ensure the safety of the traveling public."

Anyone who may have been a victim of theft at MIA is urged to call the Miami-Dade Police Department at 305-876-7500.

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