A former Transportation Security Administration supervisor at Newark Liberty International Airport was sentenced Tuesday to 30 months in prison for accepting bribes and kickbacks from a subordinate who pillaged the luggage of travelers during security screenings for more than a year, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Michael Arato, 42, of Ewing, was arrested in October 2010 after TSA and Port Authority Police of New York and New Jersey received numerous complaints from passengers on an Air India flight began complaining that of money and other valuables in their carry-on baggage or handbags were missing after being searched by TSA employees at the B-3 checkpoint. The complaints prompted officials to set up a sting operation.
Arato's cohort, security officer Al Raimi, of Woodbridge, reportedly stole up to$30,000 in cash from travelers, and then gives a portion of it to Arato. Raimi was caught on video stealing from passengers and began cooperating with authorities in September 2010, ABC News reported.
According to prosecutors, the pair often targeted non-English speaking passengers traveling on an Air India flight that left Newark's Terminal B. During the sting, investigators observed Arato accepting approximately $3,100 in bribes that Raimi gave him as part of the sting set up by police.
The pair would steal the money then hide it in X-ray machine drawers, explosive detection machines and the lost and found until it was safe to remove and split up. Investigators also have the pair on tape discussing an on-going competition between themselves that involved stealing from passengers in the presence of their TSA supervisors.
On one recording, Arato jokes about wanting to steal in the presence of every one of his supervisors. On another recording, the pair is heard saying how they didn’t feel bad stealing from foreign passengers who are leaving the country with “our money.”
Investigators say the theft began in September 2009 and lasted through October 2010 when Arato was arrested.
Arato was facing up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on the charge of conspiring to commit theft and up to one year in prison and a fine of $100,000 on each of the three counts of theft by an employee of the government, CBS News reported.
Arato, according to Fishman, pocketed anywhere from $400 to $700 belonging to passengers during one shift. One victim told police $5,000 in cash she was delivering to a relative in India was stolen from her purse during a search. The fact that Arato and Raimi targeted their victims based upon their inability to speak English and made a game of their thievery was especially offensive, Fishman said.
When Arato completes his prison term, he must serve three years of supervised probation, pay $24,150 to the victims, and forfeit $3,100 to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Raimi, 29, and Arato both pleaded guilty before Judge Linares in February. Raimi is scheduled to be sentenced on September 20, 2011, CNN.com reported.