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Airport security firm disputes reports of violations

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An airport security company criticized by the U.S. Justice Department for "astonishing and widespread" violations of federal guidelines defended its practices Friday, saying the government's charges are inaccurate and that the company has taken responsibility for its "shortcomings."

Atlanta-based Argenbright Security, Inc., responsible for security at several of the nation's airports, was ordered to pay more than $1.5 million in fines and restitution last year after three managers pleaded guilty to felonies that potentially threatened public safety.

Among the charges was that Argenbright hired dozens of criminals as "pre-departure screeners" at Philadelphia International Airport, failing to verify their criminal backgrounds and falsely stating that those checks had been done.

The employees' criminal convictions had ranged from theft and forgery to possession of a controlled substance, prostitution and criminal conspiracy.

The company also allowed more than 1,300 untrained screeners to work at the Philadelphia airport and permitted the training test scores of others to be falsified.

"We long ago took full responsibility for the shortcomings in our Philadelphia operations," said Argenbright president Bill Barbour.

In addition to paying the monetary penalty, Argenbright was placed on probation and ordered to take steps to prevent the violations from recurring.

But the Justice Department announced Thursday it had filed a petition in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia seeking to revoke that probation, saying the violations continued after the sentencing and that Argenbright "has committed many new -- and serious -- violations" of Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

Barbour said there were "many inaccuracies" in the government's motion, but he did not elaborate.

"While we dispute many of these items," he said, "we take these charges very seriously."

Barbour made the case for stronger government oversight of airport security operations, saying direct federal supervision would result in improved background checks, new technology systems, and better supervisory standards.

The Justice Department action Thursday is not related to the events of September 11, federal officials said.

Argenbright is responsible for security at Philadelphia International Airport and airports nationwide including Newark, New Jersey, Logan in Boston, O'Hare in Chicago, and Dulles outside Washington. Two planes used in the September 11 terrorist attacks were hijacked from Logan and one plane each was hijacked from Dulles and Newark.


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