TSA agents accused of stealing jewelry

(AFP Photo / Lee Celano)
A Boston woman says a TSA officer stole her jewelry at a security checkpoint at Logan Airport, taking off with pearls worth thousands and deleting the surveillance footage after a complaint was filed.

Terri Ivester claims an airport agent working for the Transportation Security Administration took her backpack out of sight and stole her belongings while in another area.

The TSA agent holds my backpack up, and um, says there’s a water bottle in this backpack, I’m going to have to take that,” she told CBS Boston.

Taking luggage out of a passenger’s sight goes against TSA policies, which grant passengers the right to stay with their bags. Once the backpack was returned to Ivester, she did not think much of the occurrence – until she looked for her necklaces later that day.

“I’m ready to put on my jewelry and I can’t find it,” she said. Ivester was getting ready to head to a family christening in Chicago, only to realize that four pieces of jewelry, totaling $3,700, were missing. An 18-inch pearl necklace and matching double stranded pearl bracelet were among the missing items.

“It had gone through the scanner. I think they saw the jewels and I think they took them,” she added.

By the time Ivester filed the complaint, 30 days had passed and the surveillance footage had already been deleted, making it impossible for TSA to do anything about the alleged crime. The woman said she spent most of those days working on the extensive paperwork required to file a report.

Ivester is not the only airline passenger whose belongings had been stolen by the very agency meant to provide a significant part of the nation’s security. CBS examined a number of reports to find that since 2011, more than $60,000 reports of theft were filed in the city of Boston alone, only $3,000 of which TSA reimbursed. And in the past decade, TSA has fired 382 of its employees for stealing from passengers.

While theft can occur in front of passengers’ own eyes at security checkpoints, much of the theft also occurs in back rooms where agents screen checked luggage.

“It was so easy. I walked right out of the checkpoint with a Nintendo Wii in my hand. Nobody said a word,” Pythias Brown, a former TSA agent who spent three years in prison for stealing more than $800,000 worth of goods, told ABC news.

The TSA has a zero tolerance policy for theft. But while it fires employees caught in the act, the reports dug up by CBS show the agency rarely reimburses passengers for stolen items.

“We are well too aware of how the actions of a few can influence the perception the public has of our agency. It’s truly a shame,” the TSA wrote in a blog post.

But for people like Ivester, deleted surveillance footage will make getting her stolen pearls back an impossible task.