SEPTEMBER 04, 2008
Proving once again that the nation’s airports are vulnerable to serious security breaches, a longtime public employee at one of the world’s busiest airports has been charged with smuggling foreigners—including previously deported aliens with criminal records—into the country by helping them out of the terminal before mandatory customs inspections.
The veteran city worker, an elevator mechanic, has for decades been cleared to access restricted areas at Los Angeles International Airport and federal authorities believe he was a small part of a large scale illegal immigrant smuggling operation at the massive facility which annually handles 62 million passengers.
Officials admit they have no clue how long the smuggling ring has operated but say the city mechanic (Roberto Canchola) sneaked in at least 15 illegal immigrants in the last few months, including two criminals who had been deported, as they arrived on Mexicana flights from Mexico.
Upon arrival, the passengers would signal to Canchola by putting their hands over the hearts like they were saying the Pledge of Allegiance. He then escorted them out of the airport through restricted back areas to avoid U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoints mandatory for all international passengers. The smuggled aliens were then taken to downtown Los Angeles where relatives paid up to $4,500 for each person.
Now the 23-year city employee, whose annual taxpayer-financed salary is $81,000, faces a decade in prison. Unfortunately, this is hardly the first time that a serious lapse puts the nation at risk since the devastating 2001 terrorist attacks supposedly strengthened security at all of the country’s transportation facilities.
In the last few years alone unbelievable breaches have occurred at airports across the nation. At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Georgia’s Atlanta International Airport, illegal immigrants used fake security badges to work in highly restricted security areas. At Florida’s Orlando Airport a pair of baggage handlers smuggled guns and drugs onto a commercial flight more than once and Customs and Border Protection officers at two separate east coast airports helped drug smugglers and illegal immigrants enter the country for cash.
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