You'd think your personal possessions and money would be safe around security workers, but apparently they're not. A TSA employee at Newark Liberty International Airport confessed on Monday that he actually stole money from passengers who went through his security checkpoint, and he accepted bribes and kickbacks for looking the other way while a co-worker did the same thing.
Michael Arato, a 41-year-old who supervised a security checkpoint in the airport's Terminal B, admitted that he and his colleague deliberately targeted foreigners who could not speak much English -- in particular, Indian women on their way home after visiting relatives in the United States.
"Arato literally made a game of stealing hundreds of dollars a day from individuals standing in the security lane. That he targeted them based on their inability to speak English is especially offensive," said U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman in a statement.
It wasn't uncommon for Arato to lift $400 to $700 per shift from the wallets, purses and carry-ons he inspected. He would then hide the cash in X-ray machine drawers, explosive detection machines, and the lost and found container until the coast was clear to take it away.
When passengers began to complain, videotape surveillance of the station was set up, and the TSA employees were documented committing the offenses, as well as staging a theft competition and talking about how they didn't feel bad about ripping off foreign passengers because they were leaving the United States with "our money."
Arato was in cahoots with one other worker, and would pretend he didn't notice when that worker also lifted cash from passengers. In return for his inattention, the colleague would give Arato a cut. He admitted to receiving as much as $3,100 in one week this way.
Interestingly enough, it was that unnamed co-worker who arranged a deal with authorities and blew the whistle on Arato.
Arato's sentencing date is May 24. He could receive a maximum of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
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