Eleven people have been charged with the theft of passenger property at Los Angeles International Airport according to prosecutors. This includes a baggage screener accused of stealing a $100,000 watch from Paris Hilton’s travel bag.
According to prosecutors, George Penaranda, 27, was spotted by a co-worker taking a Paris Hilton Limited Edition watch from her bag. The co-worker said he slipped it into his glove and then his pocket in May of 2006.
Penaranda replaced the $100,000 watch after he realized that he had been spotted, City Attorney’s spokesman Frank Mateljan said. Penaranda was charged with grand theft and faces a maximum jail sentence of one year and a $1,000 fine if convicted.
Other screeners charged were Qualonda Matthews, 32, and Millicent Pounds, 49. They were charged with one count of grand theft, one count of misappropriation of property, and one count of conspiracy.
Prosecutors say that Matthews and Pounds took R B; singer Keyshia Cole’s $7,000 Platinum Rolex watch after she accidentally left it behind at a security checkpoint. They then took it from the airport’s lost property section and sold it in Las Vegas.
The other thefts included several watches, foreign currency, cartons of cigarettes, and cameras.
All of the Transportation Security Administration screeners have been fired or quit according to officials.
The eight other people charged include five U.S. Transportation Security Administration screeners, two employees of an airport subcontractor, and a transient.
“We hold our transportation security officers to the highest ethical standards,” Lawrence Fetters, the Transportation Security Administration’s security director at the airport, said at a news conference. “As passengers put their belongings and trust into our hands, we owe it to them to hold these people accountable.”
The charges come as part of a program announced Friday to fight theft at Los Angeles International Airport that includes a joint task force of nearly a dozen law enforcement agencies. The agencies include the city attorney’s office, Los Angeles Police Department, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.
“This really does represent a very small minority of our entire work force … we have done everything we can to weed the bad ones out,” TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said.
The dozen agencies will cooperate to investigate and prosecute crimes under the airport’s security enhancement initiative. A key component, as shown on Friday, will be battling theft by workers, according to City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.