3 baggage workers at BWI charged in theft of valuables

Military personnel, other international travelers were targeted

June 24, 2005|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Three baggage handlers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport have been charged with stealing electronics and other valuables from U.S. military personnel on overseas assignments and from other international travelers.

Thousands of dollars worth of laptop computers, cameras and other items were taken, mostly from the luggage of military personnel, in what Maryland Transportation Authority police called a "major felony theft scheme" that targeted international travelers.

Charging documents filed against one of the men refer to complaints made by at least 31 military personnel flying in and out of the airport. Lt. Col. Russell N. Shea, chief of the operations bureau for the Transportation Authority police, said hundreds of military personnel might have been victimized.

"It is a disgrace and shame that we have people who stole from the people who volunteered - they weren't drafted, they volunteered - who put their life on the line for their country and for the war on terrorism," Shea said.

BWI a military hub

Some of the military personnel could have been returning from or going to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. The military uses BWI as a hub.

Music on MP3 players and CDs, and movies on DVDs can serve as reminders of home for service personnel. Laptop computers allow them to stay in touch long-distance by e-mail.

The charges refer only to items belonging to a few people because most of the items did not bear identification, said Shea, whose office is holding hundreds of items as evidence.

"If somebody could tell us what they are missing, we would be happy to give it back to them," Shea said. "I have a lot more property than I know who it belongs to."

Anne Arundel County prosecutors filed charges last week against baggage handlers Michael Harlee, 23, of Baltimore and Derek Jerod Murray, 20, of Glen Burnie. Harlee is charged with four counts of felony theft and one of misdemeanor theft. Murray is charged with one count of felony theft.

Trial next month

A third baggage handler, Shaka Nesta Watson, 20, of Baltimore was charged in January and is scheduled for trial next month. He and another baggage handler, unidentified in the charging documents for Watson, admitted "stealing items off of aircraft, many of which belonged to deploying U.S. soldiers," according to the charging document.

A search of the suspects' homes yielded more than 200 items that police think were stolen from checked luggage, including a laptop computer stolen from a woman who checked it on an Air Canada flight, the documents say.

Watson's lawyer was out of the country and could not be reached yesterday.

The men who have been charged worked for Orlando, Fla.-based Signature Flight Support, said Kristin Riggin, a spokeswoman for the Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office. An official at the company did not return a call requesting comment yesterday. The workers must have security badges to work there, the charging documents say.

The company has a baggage-handling contract with the Air Mobility Command, which transports military personnel to and from overseas assignments. An official with the command complained about the thefts to a Transportation Authority detective, according to charging documents filed against Watson.

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