In the latest apparent case of what have been hundreds of thefts by TSA officers of passenger belongings, an iPad left behind at a security checkpoint in the Orlando airport was tracked as it moved 30 miles to the home of the TSA officer last seen handling it.
Confronted two weeks later by ABC News, the TSA officer, Andy Ramirez, at first denied having the missing iPad, but ultimately turned it over after blaming his wife for taking it from the airport.
The iPad was one of ten purposely left behind at TSA checkpoints at major airports with a history of theft by government screeners, as part of an ABC News investigation into the TSA’s ongoing problem with theft from passengers.
“This is the tip of the iceberg,” said Rep. John Mica, R.-Florida, chair of the House Transportation Committee and a frequent critic of TSA senior management. “It is an outrage to the public, and actually to our aviation system.”
The TSA said Ramirez was no longer with the agency as of Wednesday afternoon. In a statement to ABC News, the agency said it has “a zero-tolerance policy for theft and terminates any employee who is determined to have stolen from a passenger.”
According to the TSA, 381 TSA officers have been fired for theft between 2003 and 2012.
The agency disputes that theft is a widespread problem, however, saying the number of officers fired “represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed” by TSA.
In the ABC News investigation, TSA officers at nine of the ten airport checkpoints followed agency guidelines and immediately contacted the owner, whose name and phone number were displayed prominently on the iPad case.
Luggage checked at the same airports with iPads and cash went through security undisturbed.
But in Orlando, the iPad was not immediately returned and two hours later its tracking application showed the device as it moved away from the airport to the home of the TSA officer.
After waiting 15 days, ABC News went to the home and asked Ramirez to return the iPad.
He denied knowing anything about the missing iPad and said any items left behind at security checkpoints are taken to lost and found.
The Orlando airport lost and found said there was no record of an iPad being turned in on the day in question.
Ramirez produced the iPad only after ABC News activated an audio alarm feature, and turned it over after taking off his TSA uniform shirt.
His explanation for the missing iPad in his home was that his wife had taken it from the airport.
“I’m so embarrassed,” he told ABC News. “My wife says she got the iPad and brought it home,” he said.
Moments later, his wife appeared at the door to say she had found it and “no told my husband.”
Asked how that was possible given that ABC News tape showed him handling the iPad at the security checkpoint, Ramirez shut the door and has not responded to questions since.
No TSA official, including director John Pistole, would agree to be interviewed by ABC News about the issue of theft and what steps TSA has taken to address the long-standing problem.
In its statement, the TSA said it “holds its employees to the highest ethical standards.”
A spokesperson said Pistole has established the Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate allegations of misconduct and that most TSA employees are “honest, hardworking people.”
Congressman Mica says TSA management has failed to properly do background checks on the employees it hires as officers, and had earlier this year asked the Government Accountability Office to do a full investigation of TSA’s theft problems.
“[If] you’re not vetting them before you put them on the job, and allow them to rummage through people’s personal effects, there is something wrong,” said Mica.
Source: ABC News