Here are two more reasons you should never check valuables in your luggage when you’re flying: Michael Pujol and his wife, Betsy Pujol Salazar.
The couple was arrested last week and charged with grand theft. Investigators say Pujol, a TSA agent at Miami International Airport, stuffed items from passengers’ luggage inside a hidden pocket in his work jacket.
The Pujols were caught after a missing iPad was traced to them through a Craigslist transaction. Pujol Salazar admitted that she and her husband had taken items stolen from luggage and sold them online for the last three years.
Back in 2008, when I started reporting about TSA’s little crime epidemic, the agency strongly denounced the actions of its thieving agents, insisting it had “zero tolerance” for their actions.
The thefts “in no way represent the overwhelming majority of hard working officers in airports around the country,” the agency declared on its blog.
Since then, I’ve wondered: What does TSA mean by “zero tolerance”?
I think actions speak louder than words.
Just a few days ago, a screener at LaGuardia Airport was arrested for allegedly swiping a pricey laptop from a college student at a screening area. TSA employee Edwin Rosario, 27, was charged with grand larceny and possession of stolen property for taking a $1,300 computer a passenger had left behind.
A few weeks before, the TSA was accused of taking money out of a Florida couple’s luggage. No arrests have been made yet, and the agency refuses to release security camera footage that could implicate the thief because of “security” concerns. The agency also told the passengers that its screeners “never steal.”
Last month, another TSA worker in Memphis was arrested and charged with theft. Police say Ricky German, 48, tried to swipe a laptop that had been left at his screening station. Surveillance video showed German carrying away the laptop and throwing away papers with the owner’s name on it. After police arrived and said they would view the surveillance video, German then claimed he “found” the laptop.
This fall, a passenger going through security at Phoenix Airport left the screening area $200 lighter. He thinks one of the agents helped himself to his cash when he was checked. Surveillance video didn’t implicate the TSA, but the passenger, Tyson Tibshraeny, is unconvinced. “Where I have a problem is they wanted to separate me from my wallet,” he says.
A few weeks earlier, a TSA agent lost his job and is faced grand theft charges for allegedly pocketing a $450 pen owned by Rick Case, a prominent South Florida car dealership owner. Investigators say Toussain Puddie, 30, admitted to taking Case’s pen after it was left behind during a checkpoint screening at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
“Finders keepers doesn’t apply when you are a public servant and have the public’s trust,” a Sheriff Department spokesman said.
It’s easy to see how agents like Puddie might think otherwise. After all, Congress allows the TSA to keep the pocket change air travelers leave behind — why not their pens or laptop computers?