Three baggage handlers arrested at TIA

By: Melanie Brooks
Tampa, Florida – Traveling is tough these days: long lines, pricey tickets, parking. Nothing is easy.

Even luggage brings with it some anxiety. Will my bags make it? Will they be handled with care?

There's an understanding that goes along with leaving your bags at the ticket counter. You hope it arrives with it's original contents inside. A trust factor, if you will.

That implicit trust was violated at Tampa International Airport.

Three baggage handlers were arrested Friday, accused of stealing countless electronics out of luggage. Police say the suspects got all kinds of goods: laptops, iPods, digital cameras, even GPS systems.

Dozens of trips ruined. Passengers arriving at their destinations without expensive gear that they needed.

Once again, it goes back to trust.

“We packed it. We expect it to be there when we get there. I do have jewelry and other valuables in my suitcase. It's very concerning to me,” said Beth Dahlke, headed to Long Boat Key on business.

“Now, I think I'm going to give second thought to putting my valuables in my suitcase, or if I'm going to carry them with me as well. Hopefully they'll control this for us that travel frequently.”

Airport officials say the baggage handlers were doing contract work with Continental Airlines, working for a company called Delta Global Services. Ernie Azucey, Efrain "Junjo" Malave-Bermudez Jr., and Juan Ayende-Nieves were arrested after a sting operation.

Continental hired a security company to rig a computer and plant it in luggage. The men took the bait. That computer was headed for Houston, but never made it. A few days after it was taken, one of the men tried to access his MySpace page and was busted.

One passenger, Ellery Mooreland, returning from Japan with his son said, “It comes down to morals and ethics, the people you trust who work here at the airport.” Mooreland kept his valuables in a carry-on.

And, that's what officials are advising. Anything of value, keep in your purse or a bag that goes with you on the plane. That way, the only hands with constant access to it are yours.

You can also use a TSA-approved lock for your luggage. Only TSA employees have the keys to the locks.

Airport officials are not commenting directly on the baggage handlers since this is an ongoing investigation. The company that employed the men did not return phone calls to Tampa Bay's 10 News.

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