Transportation Security Administration agents are supposed to be the first line of defense against terrorists. Not Pythias Brown. An airport screener at Newark’s Liberty Airport, he has been accused of swiping electronic equipment from luggage.
He started out small, stealing a cellphone here, a laptop there. Then he expanded. In all, he’s stolen more than 100 items, according to authorities.
This summer, he got a little too ambitious. He stole a $47,900 camera from an HBO crew and a camcorder from a CNN employee. It would have probably gone unnoticed if one of the victims didn’t later recognize the item up for sale on eBay.
Federal investigators have charged Brown with theft. He faces up to 10 years in prison. Based on their own findings, the Transportation Security Administration will soon fire him. He has been a screener at Newark since 2002.
Authorities raided his home last week and seized, among other things, “66 cameras, 31 laptop computers, 20 cell phones, 17 sets of electronic games, 13 pieces of jewelry, 12 GPS devices, 11 MP3 players, eight camera lenses, six video cameras and two DVD players.” Brown confessed that he started stealing beginning in September 2007 and has put most of the items up on eBay.
The camcorder, stolen in July 2008, was found by the CNN employee on eBay in August 2008. Brown used the name “alirla” to sell the items.
After the employee contacted the police, investigators used their account to place the winning bid, arranged for payment through PayPal, and had the item shipped to an address in Marlton, New Jersey. Brown listed his Maplewood home as the return address. The serial number matched that of the stolen camera.
After the HBO employee reported the theft of the $47,900 camera, authorities found it for sale on eBay by “alirla.” They traced the account to a Verizon Internet address, which was registered to Brown’s fiancee. The Verizon account was registered at the Maplewood address.
Authorities raided the home on October 1, 2008.
Lara Uselding, TSA spokeswoman, said that they are working closely with investigators to bring charges against Brown. She said that these types of crimes were rare and that “less than 300 TSA employees have been terminated for theft.”