BIG BUST OF MINI THIEVES
Crew Stole Little Liquor Bottles From Planes
Residents of Ridgewood, Glendale, Long Island City, Ozone Park and Richmond Hill were among 18 airport workers charged last Wednesday, Sept. 12, for allegedly stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of miniature liquor bottles and duty-free items from airlines at John F. Kennedy International Airport, prosecutors announced.
The arrests were made as the result of “Operation Last Call,” a fivemonth joint investigation conducted by the Queens District Attorney’s office and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to crack down on the suspected theft and sale of stolen items at the airport. Most of the suspects involved in the scheme were taken into custody last Wednesday at a special JFK security meeting.
In all, over 100,000 miniature bot- tles of high-end liquors such as Dewars scotch, Absolut vodka and Courvosier cognac as well as a host of duty-free items such as quart bottles of liquor, perfume and cartons of cigarettes were stolen by the suspects over the course of five months. The items were believed to be worth a combined estimated total of well over $750,000.
Reportedly, 15 of the 18 defendants are, or formerly were truck drivers for Sky Chef, which supplies concession items and provisions to American Airlines flights at JFK. They were identified as follows:
• Edgar Aquino-Acosta, 24, of Fountain Avenue in East New York;
• Franklyn Gill, 64, of 116th Street in Richmond Hill;
• Kelvin Gomez-Nunez, 32, of Norman Street in Ridgewood;
• Isaacs Hernandez, 24, of Arlington Avenue in Cypress Hills;
• Elvin Imbert, 37, of 104th Street in Richmond Hill;
• Ablam Kloutse, 44, of 134th Street in Richmond Hill;
• William Leyva, 48, of 40th Street in North Bergen, N.J.;
• Freddie Lucas, 36, of 146th Avenue in Rosedale;
• Richard Luna, 50, of Westcott Street in Inwood;
• Maxime Mathe, 39, of 110th Avenue in St. Albans;
• Raymond Prenza, 36, of West 130th Street in Manhattan;
• Isaac Romoleon, 51, of 111th Avenue in Jamaica;
• Arkadiusz Szmitko, 32, of Linden Street in Ridgewood; and
• George Torez, 30, of Riverton Street in St. Albans.
Three security guards at the airport— identified by law enforcement sources as Jose Baez, 50, of 62nd Street in Glendale; Martin Molina, 50, of 43rd Street in Long Island City; and Stalin Pinossimbana, 20, of 75th Street in Ozone Park—were also charged for allegedly allowing the scheme to take place on their watch.
The charges were announced last Wednesday by Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown and Port Au- thority Inspector General Robert E. Van Etten.
“Employee pilferage is a significant problem for many companies, not just at the airports but throughout the entire metropolitan area,” Brown said in a statement. “In the last analysis, however, it is the consuming public that bears the burden of thefts such as those that are alleged to have occurred in the case.”
Brown described the involvement of airport security guards in the thefts as “more troubling,” adding that, “if a terrorist wanted to breach airport security, the alleged actions of these defendants gave them a back-door opportunity to do so.”
“[Those] arrested in Operation Last Call violated and sold out their position of trust and access to the secure areas of the airport, including access to commercial aviation, all for personal greed,” Van Etten said. “More egregious is the conduct of three security guards employed to secure, protect and report crime at JFK International Airport, but who also were involved in selling out their positions of trust to line their pockets.”
Law enforcement sources said that the Sky Chef drivers, as part of their duties, were responsible for removing and collecting unsold liquor bottles and other items from food and beverage storage carts on American Airlines aircraft.
The items, stored in thick plastic bags, were then to be delivered to a storage facility at JFK.
Prosecutors said the drivers charged in the scheme instead took the bags of unsold liquor bottles and brought them to their personal vehicles or sold them at the loading docks to co-workers. Each miniature bottle was reportedly sold for amounts ranging from 50 cents to $1.25 each, depending on the type and brand of liquor; these bottles are generally sold for several dollars each on flights.
“Operation Last Call” was launched after the Port Authority Inspector General’s office received information about the theft scheme. The probe included physical surveillance as well as undercover transactions, including the purchase of over 57,000 miniature bottles of liquor.
In addition to the arrests made last Wednesday, law enforcement agents raided the home of one of the suspects, Duran, and recovered up to 60,000 miniature liquor bottles as well as $34,000 in cash.
Each of the suspects were variously charged with third-degree bribe receiving, receiving a reward for official misconduct, second-, third- and fourth-degree grand larceny and third- and fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property.
Detectives Steven Poulos, Arthur Maisano and John Tucci of the Poart Authority Inspector General’s office conducted the investigation under the supervision of Director of Investigation Michael Nestor and Assistant Director Salvatore A. Dalessandro.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Catherine C. Kane, chief of the Airport Investigations Unit, under the supervision of Assistant District Attorneys Gerard A. Brave, chief of the D.A.’s Organized Crime and Rackets Bureau, and Mark L. Katz, deputy bureau chief.