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Salt Lake City Airport employees arrested

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (CNN) -- Just two months before the 2002 Winter Olympics open here, 69 workers at the Salt Lake City Airport were indicted Tuesday on charges of lying to their employers about their immigration status or criminal background and providing false Social Security numbers on their applications for security badges.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said arrest warrants were issued for all the suspects and they were being picked up by authorities as part of what was dubbed "Operation Safe Travel."

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"These are people who have misrepresented who they are. Through their use of false information and altered or counterfeit documents, they were able to obtain security badges that put them one-swipe away from access to the most secure areas of the airport," said U.S. Attorney Paul Warner.

"While there is no evidence that anyone indicted as part of Operation Safe Travel has attempted any kind of terrorist activity at the airport or that the airport is anything less than completely safe, in today's environment we are not going to wait around for something to happen," said Warner.

All but eight of those charged had top security clearance. Most of the suspects were Hispanic, mainly Mexican nationals, a spokeswoman for Warner said.

The employees work for private companies contracted to operate such services as airport screening, catering, refueling, cleaning and aircraft maintenance and airport construction.

The charges include making false statements, using counterfeit, altered or fraudulent Social Security cards, using false alien registration cards and numbers and making false representations about citizenship status to obtain employment and security badges.

Most indictments include three to five counts. All are believed to be in the country illegally, according to the U.S. Attorney's office in Utah.

Three of the suspects are airport security screeners, but they did NOT work for the two main companies that provide security at the airport's two terminals -- Argenbright and ITS.

Six people were charged with making false statements about their criminal history to receive a security badge. The conduct would have disqualified them from receiving security clearance, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service will initiate administrative action against some 200 other airport employees who are in the country illegally and allegedly obtained badges that allow them access to public areas of the airport. Warner said they will likely lose their jobs, but not be prosecuted.

"This is a joint anti-terrorism effort that will be on going to ensure the safety of our airport," Warner said.

Nine airlines serve the Salt Lake City airport.

Salt Lake City is host city of the 2002 Winter Olympics, which begin February 8. Mayor Rocky Anderson has pledged to provide the tightest security possible at the airport in preparation for the games, including screening all bags for explosives.


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