Riad Skaff, 67, was charged Sunday with smuggling large sums of money and exporting a banned item onto overseas-bound flights, allegedly, by using his airport privileges.
Skaff, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Lebanon, worked for Sunline Services Inc., a sub-contractor for Air France. The owner of the company, Ingrid Perrino, told CBS News that Skaff worked as a customer service agent since 1999. As part of his job, Skaff had a Security Identification Display Area (SIDA) badge, which allowed him unlimited access to all areas of Terminal 5 at O'Hare airport including the jet way and tarmac.
Earlier this week, a CBS News investigation reported that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does not require any of the 452 commercial U.S. airports where it operates checkpoints to physically screen workers who hold SIDA badges. That means workers bypass security and enter restricted areas through a back door carrying whatever they want.
According to a criminal complaint, an undercover agent with the U.S. Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agency received a tip in August of 2005 that Skaff could smuggle thousands of dollars onto an international flight for a fee. Federal law requires all passengers who travel abroad to declare currency exceeding $10,000.
After receiving the tip about Skaff, investigators then launched an undercover sting operation in which they allegedly used Skaff's services three times.
According to investigators, in October 2005 Skaff accepted $1,500 to smuggle $25,000 in U.S. cash. He allegedly told an undercover investigator, "I am in charge of the plane, everything."
Investigators say Skaff instructed the undercover agent to place the cash in an envelope and pass it to him at the "welcome desk" on the public side of the airport. Skaff then allegedly used his airport ID to take the cash into the restricted area of the airport and gave back the envelope to the agent "at the door of the plane." Investigators say the agent then was able to carry the unchecked, undeclared cash onboard a flight from Chicago to Paris, France.
According to investigators, in December 2005, Skaff accepted $6,000 from an undercover agent to smuggle $100,000 in US currency along with an export-restricted cellular-jammer, again using his airport access. Then, in November 2006 investigators say Skaff accepted $14,000 to smuggle $271,000 in U.S. currency.
Skaff was arrest last Sunday and is now under house-arrest with an electronic monitor on a $100,000 bond. An ICE spokesperson tells CBS News that Skaff has turned over his U.S. passport and his airport identification.
"We were absolutely floored," Perrino says. She was shocked by the news of her former employee's arrest. "He was a nice, little, old man who was friendly and talked with everyone." Perrino adds, "I guess, any airline employee can be bribed into doing something."