(NEW YORK) — A TSA agent was arrested this week and charged with stealing from passengers traveling through New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport, adding to the long list of TSA officers accused of theft of passenger belongings.
TSA baggage screener Sean Henry, 32, was arrested after a sting operation conducted jointly by the TSA and the Port Authority Police Department caught Henry leaving the airport with two iPads that had been planted as part of the sting, as well as numerous other electronic devices he had allegedly stolen from passengers. Just as in a recent ABC News investigation of thefts by TSA agents, the sting used the iPads’ own tracking capabilities to follow the stolen tablets’ movements.
Transportation Security Administration spokesman David Castelveter told ABC News that the TSA has “taken the steps to begin processing [Henry] for termination.”
“TSA holds its employees to the highest ethical standards and has zero tolerance for misconduct in the workplace,” said Castelveter in a statement.
In September, an ABC News investigation revealed that 381 TSA officers had been fired for theft between 2003 and 2012, including 11 up to that point this year.
As part of the investigation, ABC News purposefully left behind an iPad at an airport security checkpoint in Orlando, Fla., and, using the iPad’s GPS tracking app, recovered it at the home of a TSA agent who was later fired for the alleged theft.
The ABC News investigation prompted Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., to urge the TSA to conduct random sting operations on its employees “to test whether TSA agents are acting in a trustworthy manner to protect passenger property.”
Port Authority spokesman Steve Coleman told ABC News that authorities have recently stepped up their sting investigations, in part in response to these reports, and in part because they’ve received more claims from passengers about lost and possibly stolen items.
“These sting operations have been growing out there to try to curb this level of luggage theft, especially as the Christmas holidays are approaching,” Coleman said.
In the sting that resulted in Henry’s arrest, officers used GPS technology in the planted iPads to follow the tablets as they left JFK on the airport’s AirTrain system. Officers allegedly found Henry on the train with the devices, according to Coleman.
After arresting Henry, Coleman said, investigators found more devices in his backpack that they have identified as stolen property, including a MacBook Pro and a pair of new Beats by Dr. Dre Headphones still in the box. They also found another set of Beats Headphones, an Apple iPad Mini, an Apple iPod and an iPhone, which were taken for further investigation.
A subsequent search of his house also turned up a black Apple Macbook that was identified as stolen property, Coleman said.
Henry was charged with grand larceny and possession of stolen property. He was released on his own recognizance on Wednesday night and is due back in court in January. He has not yet entered a plea. According to Coleman, police are attempting to locate owners of the items they found, and more charges will be added when owners are located.
Coleman called the use of GPS tracking in its sting operations a “relatively new” tactic. The TSA declined to talk specifically about covert operations but did say that the agency has been conducting tests and cooperating with the Port Authority Police after the latest arrest.
Figures provided to ABC News by the TSA in October in response to a Freedom of Information Act request showed that JFK Airport ranked second in the nation in the number of TSA agents fired for theft, with a total of 27 fired from 2002 through December 2011.
“There’s been an ongoing problem with luggage theft out of the airport, especially terminal 4, which is the international building,” Coleman said.
The TSA disputes that theft is a widespread problem, saying the number of officers fired “represents less than one-half of one percent of officers that have been employed” by TSA.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Selena Larson, CNN
Wayne Drash, CNN
Max Blau and Chandrika Narayan, CNN
Aaron Smith, CNN