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TSA officer pleads guilty to stealing from passengers

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • TSA officer pleads guilty to stealing from travelers at Newark Airport checkpoint
  • The officer shared stolen cash with his supervisor
  • Between October 2009 and September 2010, officer stole between $10,000 and $30,000

(CNN) -- A New Jersey Transportation Security Administration officer on Thursday pleaded guilty to federal charges that he and his supervisor regularly stole from passengers during screenings at Newark Liberty International Airport, according to federal prosecutors.

Officer Al Raimi, 29, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Newark. He admitted that for nearly a year, he stole between $10,000 and $30,000 in cash from travelers as they passed through a security checkpoint at the airport.

Raimi admitted that he would "kick up" some of that money to a supervisor, who in turn allowed him to keep stealing. The supervisor, Michael Arato, pleaded guilty earlier this month to accepting kickbacks and bribes.

The TSA and the Port Authority Police Department of New York and New Jersey opened an investigation after receiving numerous complaints from passengers who claimed valuables were missing from their carry-on luggage after they passed through the airport security screening devices.

The complaining passengers were predominantly non-English-speaking women of Indian descent and nationality who were returning to India after visiting the United States, according to the original complaint. Authorities launched an investigation, including video surveillance of the checkpoint.

Raimi, who was identified in the original complaint as the "co-schemer" with Arato, began cooperating with authorities in September 2010. Raimi told investigators that Arato not only had accepted kickbacks in stolen cash, the supervisor also regularly stole from passengers himself.

Raimi's plea agreement states that in August 2010, Raimi was secretly recorded stealing about $5,000 from a female traveler's handbag during a secondary screening of her belongings.

In one audiotaped conversation, Arato was recorded stating that he didn't feel bad stealing from foreigners because they were "leaving this county with our money," the original complaint states.

Raimi could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He and Arato are scheduled to be sentenced later this year.