More than 100 workers arrested at area airports

Employees charged with concealing criminal pasts or immigration violations

10 found at BWI

April 24, 2002|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

More than 100 workers at the three major Washington-area airports, including 10 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, have been indicted on charges that they concealed criminal pasts and violated immigration laws in applying for airport security badges, federal authorities said yesterday.

Six workers were arrested yesterday at BWI, and authorities said they plan to arrest the remaining four. Three employees were charged with immigration violations, and seven were charged with making false statements that failed to disclose felony convictions in their applications for security badges that allowed them access to planes, ramps, runways and cargo areas.

While federal officials said none of the workers was suspected of engaging in terrorist activity, their access to secure areas troubled law enforcement authorities.

"The American people are being asked to put up with long lines and intrusive searches," said U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who announced the arrests at a news conference in Alexandria, Va., yesterday. "Americans deserve the confidence of knowing that individuals working in our airports are worthy of our trust."

In September, several law enforcement agencies formed anti-terrorism task forces that included representatives from state police agencies, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Transportation Department's inspector general and the FBI to scrutinize the backgrounds of all airport workers with access to secure areas. So far, the nationwide investigation has spanned 11 airports, including Phoenix and Las Vegas, and led to more than 400 arrests.

Sweeps at Washington Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport yielded the bulk of yesterday's arrests, with 68 at Dulles and 26 at National. Two of those arrested were baggage screeners, one at Dulles and one at National, authorities said.

Many of the others arrested worked in custodial jobs, at airport restaurants or in construction, authorities said. Some are charged with falsifying Social Security numbers.

The arrests were part of the Maryland Anti-terrorism Task Force review of more than 15,000 employment applications from workers who have access to secure areas.

"This is part of a coordinated effort that has been going on for four months, at least," said Virginia B. Evans, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office.

More than 12,000 people work at BWI, either for the state or for private companies. In December 2000, federal officials required all new employees to undergo a background check that included fingerprinting to obtain an airport-issued security badge. After the Sept. 11 attacks, the federal government required all employees, regardless of when they were hired, to pass background checks to renew their badges.

BWI spokesman John White Said the airport helped federal authorities locate applications and employees, but he said he did not know where in the airport the indicted workers were employed or what they did.

Evans declined to comment on the jobs they held or how the authorities uncovered their information.

Those charged with failure to disclose felony convictions include: Victoria Delores Thomas, 35, of Fort Meade; Stacey Adella Washington, 32, of Randallstown; Jenny LaTrice Payne, 34, Chandra Valenica Burton, 44, Carrold Spencer, 48, and Zachery Emanuel Kesler, 33, all of Baltimore.

A seventh unidentified worker also was charged with failing to disclose a felony conviction.

Each false statement carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Togo native Koffi Aipki, 35, also known as Michael Parks Ahorio, was charged with using a false name and birth date on his security badge application. Nicola Whittingham, 27, a Canadian citizen living in Baltimore, was placed in INS custody for working without a permit.

And Chijioki Ofo, 45, a Nigerian citizen, was placed in INS custody for being in the United States illegally.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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