by: Laurie Johnson, January 2, 2007 12:01:00 am
Police discovered 68 pieces of luggage on December 26th, in a dumpster behind a retail store in North Houston. Houston Police Department Capt. Rick Bownds is the commander of HPD's Airport Division. He says the luggage was stolen from Bush Intercontinental Airport and the evidence led officers to arrest five men: Erick Perez, Carlos Osorio, Daniel Venegas, Manuel Aguilar and his brother Ricardo Aguilar.
"The five individuals listed have been charged with a felony count of organized criminal activity in 182nd District Court. We are still investigating. In addition to these five suspects who have been arrested and charged, we've also recovered at two different locations over 90 additional pieces of luggage."
Those 90 new pieces were found over the weekend and Bownds says they aren't ruling out the possibility of finding more luggage. The five suspects were employees of Menzies Aviation Group, an airline contractor responsible for handling and transfering baggage between connecting flights.
"These are transfer bags, people making connecting flights, they could come in on virtually any airline because the connecting flights could go out on virtually any airline. And these, while the bags were at the airport, were stolen in between the connecting flights. They were not stolen from the terminals."
Menzies is cooperating with the investigation. All five suspects were baggage handlers and had direct access to passenger luggage. Bownds says all vehicles entering the airfield are searched, but officers don't do searches of vehicles leaving the airfield so that's likely how the bags were removed.
"They had proper credentials to be in the secure section because they work in the baggage handling area. So they had vehicles to go in and out of the baggage handling to move things between airlines."
Nearly every airline at Intercontinental was affected. Bags were stolen from both domestic and international flights. Bownds says there were some concerns that the theft ring might be an international operation, but after consulting with the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, HPD determinded the ring is local. The investigation is ongoing and Bownds says more arrests are possible. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.