TSA screener accused of stealing from handicapped woman at Newark Airport
(PETER J. SAMPSON) Leroy Ray found the money, authorities say. They just contend it was never actually lost.
Ray, a federal security screener at Newark Liberty International Airport, pocketed an envelope of cash while searching the purse of a handicapped woman, and later tried to cover it up by putting the money in the lost and found, federal officials said Tuesday.
Ray, 44, of Newark, was charged with theft and making false statements to investigators in connection with the Feb. 3 incident at a Terminal C checkpoint. He has been suspended by the Transportation Security Administration, which employed him as a screener since August 2002.
Ray’s attempt to steal the envelope containing $300, as well as $195 from a zippered pocket, was caught on video, authorities allege. They say the footage shows the woman approach Ray’s security lane in a wheelchair and push her purse through an X-ray machine.
When the purse comes out |the other side, Ray brings it to a table and searches the bag while wearing rubber gloves, which |he takes off with his hands still inside the purse, they allege in a criminal complaint.
Authorities then describe a sleight of hand, in which Ray shoves the gloves — and envelope — into his back pocket. He tosses the gloves into the garbage, but authorities say the video clearly shows that a bulge remains in his back pocket.
When the woman returned to the security checkpoint to complain that $300 in a white envelope was missing from her purse, Ray walked to a supervisor’s office and placed a white object from his back pocket into the lost-and-found tray, the complaint says.
Ray then returned to the checkpoint and said he had found the envelope on the floor.
Ray appeared Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Esther Salas, who advised him of his rights before releasing him on $1,000 bail. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison, said Zach Intrater, an assistant U.S. attorney.
Ray’s lawyer, Brian P. Hill, said he plans to plead not guilty.
“He is maintaining his innocence all the way through in this case,” said Hill, who described Ray as an upstanding father of four. “He is just a hardworking regular guy.”
Hill said Ray’s work record is “spotless” and that the airport video is inconclusive.
Since 2007, 23 security officers have been fired nationwide for stealing from screening areas or from checked baggage, said Ann Davis, a TSA spokeswoman. Last year, a former screener at Newark Liberty pleaded guilty to pilfering between $200,000 and $400,000 worth of electronics and jewelry from baggage.
The envelope containing the $300 was given back to the woman, but the $195 was never found.
E-mail: email@example.com. Star-Ledger Staff Writer Joe Ryan contributed to this article.