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Government rounds up JFK airport 'looters'

JFK airport

$13 million in stolen goods recovered

May 8, 1997
Web posted at: 12:10 p.m. EDT (1610 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Government agents swept through the metropolitan New York area Thursday arresting suspects accused of stealing luxury cars, Waterford crystal, designer clothes, guns and even aircraft parts at Kennedy International Airport.

Eighty-one people have been charged with various crimes, and more than $13 million worth of stolen goods recovered in a three-year sting operation near the airport, authorities said. Most were being charged with federal or state stolen-property crimes, some with armed hijacking of trucks.

"Kennedy airport has long been referred to as the mob's private candy store, if you will," said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. "But this case is much more. It's not just organized crime that rips off air cargo, it's the casual thief, it's the independent, it's the airline employee, it's the truck driver, it's the baggage handler."

Undercover FBI and Port Authority agents posing as operators of a warehouse made hundreds of deals for a broad range of goods stolen from airport warehouses or trucks, authorities said.

stolen cargo

Among the stolen goods recovered were more than $500,000 in Liz Claiborne apparel, and more than $100,000 in Donna Karan fashions. Some $3 million worth of stolen plane parts and $500,000 worth of aircraft electronic instruments were recovered. There were IBM color monitors and computer keyboards. And there were more than 70 guns, from 9 mm pistols to AK-47 assault rifles.

Most of these thefts, investigators said, were not reported by the victimized airline or the cargo carrier. As a result, consumers pick up the cost of the thefts at the cash register.


FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom says the thefts probably weren't reported because of poor inventory records, or for fear of rising insurance rates.

Most of the suspects are said to have operated alone, although some were connected to organized crime.

"There were groups of fences that had associations with the Gambino crime family, that were not working within its structure," said U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter.

Authorities estimate some $10 billion worth of loot has disappeared in recent years from airports around the country.

Correspondent Mary Ann McGann contributed to this report.  

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