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Originally published Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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2 airport workers arrested in thefts from fliers' bags

The recent arrests of two baggage handlers for allegedly stealing from passenger luggage have prompted officials at Seattle-Tacoma International...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The recent arrests of two baggage handlers for allegedly stealing from passenger luggage have prompted officials at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to seek out more passengers who may have been victims.

Bob Parker, airport spokesman, said a 22-year-old man was arrested Thursday after an investigation by Port of Seattle detectives into the suspect's cigarette-selling side business.

"He was selling a lot of cigarettes and detectives initially thought he was selling them for somebody who got them off a truck or something, but it turns out he was going through the luggage and taking anything he thought he could sell," Parker said Tuesday.

The second arrest, of another 22-year-old on Friday, resulted from an investigation into the theft of a credit card, Parker said.

When a 22-year-old man tried to use the credit card at a shop in Bellevue, police were called and the credit-card owner said she'd last seen her card when she was at the airport.

Surveillance tapes from the Bellevue store were shown to supervisors in baggage handling, who were able to identify the 22-year-old.

Both suspects work for Menzies Aviation, which handles ground services for Alaska Airlines, Parker said.

Menzies Aviation spokesman John Fulford confirmed the arrests and said they were possible because of information the company provided to Port police.

"The arrests result from proactive action taken by Menzies, Alaska Airlines and the Port of Seattle. Menzies and Alaska Airlines hold regular security briefings," the company said in a statement released Tuesday. "As a result of one such briefing, Menzies was able to provide information to the Port of Seattle police that resulted in these arrests."

Menzies and Alaska Airlines said they have a zero-tolerance policy in dealing with theft and will continue to work with the Port police on the issue.

Parker said the Port is trying to identify the extent of the problem.

"We will follow this and see where it goes and whether it is widespread or isolated," Parker said.

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Last December in Houston, seven Menzies employees were arrested after 68 suitcases that had been looted were found in a trash bin. Fulford said those arrests also resulted from information provided to police by Menzies.

Parker said the problem is exacerbated because people often report lost or stolen items to the airlines rather than the airports. In addition, it's sometimes hard to pinpoint at which airport the items were pilfered, he said.

If someone is flying from Miami to Seattle with a layover in Salt Lake City, investigators have to figure out whether the theft occurred in Miami, or Salt Lake — although that's less likely — or in Seattle, he said.

"We find that people often make a claim for an item to the airline, but never report it to the airport or the police, and then we don't know that a theft problem is developing," Parker said.

Parker asked that people who believe their items were stolen at Sea-Tac, and who have not yet reported the theft to police, call the airport at 206-433-5400.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

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