Airport theft ring busted for stealing $750,000 worth of liquor mini-bottles

"Operation Last Call" makes 18 arrests at JFK

While the airlines were charging you $7 for a mini-bottle of booze, a ring of truck drivers and security guards was stealing unused bottles at JFK International Airport and reselling them for far less on the street.

The Queens District Attorney and Port Authority Inspector General announced last month that a joint investigation — nicknamed Operation Last Call — resulted in the arrest of 18 airport employees for stealing $750,000 worth of the mini-bottles and duty-free items like larger bottles of alcohol, perfume and cigarettes.

Fifteen of the arrested workers were truck drivers employed by LSG SkyChefs, which provides food and beverage service for American Airlines. They were reportedly taking unsold merchandise and putting it in their personal vehicles or selling it on the docks to co-workers instead of returning it to the storage facility. They also gave some bottles to three security guards who, in return, conducted lax inspections and overlooked the stolen bottles.

“Perhaps more troubling is that airport security personnel entrusted with guarding against theft and maintaining security at the airport were allegedly involved in the scheme,” said Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown in a statement. “If a terrorist wanted to breach airport security, the alleged actions of these defendants gave them a back-door opportunity to do so.”

The airport has announced it will re-examine its security measures in the wake of the arrests.
According to Brown, between April and August of this year, the employees stole 57,000 mini-bottles of liquor — including Dewars scotch, Absolut vodka, Courvoisier cognac and Baileys liqueur — worth approximately $400,000. They may have stolen up to 100,000 bottles over a longer period of time. From April to August, they also stole $40,000 worth of duty-free merchandise.

Another stash was found after a search was conducted at a former driver’s house. There, officers discovered 500 to 600 garbage bags filled with about $400,000 more worth of mini-liquor bottles and $34,000 in cash, Brown said.

The scheme was uncovered during an investigation that included 57 undercover buys of stolen mini-liquor bottles. Evidently, the bottles run much cheaper on resale than they do on airplanes. Depending on the type and brand of liquor, officers said, black market prices ran from 55 cents for a bottle of Baileys to $1.25 for a bottle of Courvoisier. (Both sell on American for $7 a bottle.)

Many of the buyers would re-sell those bottles to small shops and bodegas for a few dollars more.
American Airlines spokesperson Matt Miller said that the company has “been working closely with the Port Authority Police Department on its investigation and we will continue cooperating with law enforcement officials on this case.” The company also noted the accused are contractors and not direct employees of the airline.

Most of the accused were arrested on Sept. 12 after being called to the airport for an important security meeting — apparently not realizing they were the security threat.

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