Newark TSA officer pleads guilty to theft from passengers

NEW YORK Mon Feb 14, 2011 5:27pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal security officer at Newark Liberty International Airport pleaded guilty on Monday to accepting bribes and kickbacks from a colleague who regularly stole money from passengers during security screenings, authorities said.

The Transportation Security Administration officer, Michael Arato, 41, admitted in U.S. District Court in Newark he took kickbacks from a subordinate officer, whom he permitted to steal between $10,000 and $30,000 in cash from travelers over the course of a year ending in October 2010, the U.S. Attorney's office said.

During a three-week period ending on October 5, video surveillance showed Arato pocketing some $3,100 in kickbacks from the scheme, mostly in $100 bills, authorities said.

He also admitted he regularly stole from passengers at his own checkpoint at the airport's Terminal B.

Arato, 41, of Ewing, New Jersey, faces a maximum of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced on May 24.

According to the original complaint, authorities began investigating after receiving several complaints from passengers on Air India's daily nonstop flight to India that money and other valuables from their carry-on bags had gone missing after the bags were hand-searched by TSA employees at Arato's checkpoint.

The victims were mostly non-English speaking women of Indian descent, it said.

The co-worker was not identified in court papers and a spokeswoman said the investigation is continuing. That officer was cooperating with authorities when the surveillance cameras captured Arato in the act.

(Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Greg McCune)

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