How Criminals Get Guns: Airport Baggage Handler Gets 6 Months for Stealing Firearms; 1 Went to Gang Convict

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posted on August 7, 2019
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A 27-year-old former baggage handler at the Portland International Airport was sentenced recently to six months incarceration in a federal prison for stealing guns and ammunition from airline luggage during a four-week period in 2018.

According to court documents, he stole six firearms—three 9mm pistols, two .40-caliber pistols, and one .45-caliber pistol from five different checked bags.

He plead guilty to possessing five of the firearms, which were recovered. One firearm remains missing after the man said he “gave it to a friend who was a convicted felon and gang member.” Apparently the thief was arrested before he could sell the five recovered guns.

Two owners of the stolen guns were a firearms’ dealer and an out-of-state police officer. The gun owners reported their bags (with the firearms and ammunition) missing once they reached their destinations and realized the luggage wasn’t there.

“This is how guns get on the street,’’ Assistant U.S. Attorney Hannah Horsley said. “This is how guns get diverted from lawful owners and end up in the hands of felons.’’

Despite the prosecutor’s request for a sentence of one year and nine months, the federal judge deemed that punishment too harsh after the former baggage handler described being sorry and not being in the “right mindset” when he committed the crimes.

The thief said he stole due to financial hardship. He worked as a contract baggage handler for seven months before being fired after his arrest for the crimes.

“This was a big mistake. I hope you learn from this,” U.S. District Judge Michael H. Simon told the thief, according to one news report.

The case was investigated by the FBI and the Port of Portland Police. To catch the thief, investigators twice checked in replica guns inside luggage. The baggage handler “even tried to pry the locks off a gun case on a bait bag used by detectives to catch the thief.” 

The man knew where the firearms were located in the luggage due to red tags fastened on them for special handling. He devised an elaborate scheme to steal the firearms.

His job was to transfer the red-tagged luggage from the oversized baggage conveyor belt to that passenger’s plane. He took the luggage with the firearms off the conveyor belt to an isolated area beyond the view of surveillance cameras. Then, he opened the bags to steal the guns, magazines, ammunition and other accessories. He replaced the red tags with others from checked-in luggage traveling on the same airline. However he put the bags back on conveyor belts to be carried on flights going to different destinations. Local news media reported that two pieces of luggage were transported out of the United States “arriving in London and Mexico City, which delayed the owners’ reporting of the gun thefts.”

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