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CBS2 Exclusive: $20,000 In Loot Allegedly Taken From Checked Luggage By JFK Bag Handlers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Seven John F. Kennedy International Airport baggage handlers were arrested Wednesday, on allegations that they stole out of travelers' luggage.

As Dick Brennan reported, CBS2 got an exclusive look at the loot that baggage handlers were allegedly taking for themselves. The items included cellphones, iPads, laptops, jewelry and other items worth a grand total of more than $20,000.

The items were taken from travelers' checked luggage between March 2012 and June 2014, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said Wednesday.

"The defendants have been caught red handed and will now face the consequences of their alleged illegal acts," said Brown.

"The defendants -- who were hired to handle the baggage of those traveling in and out of Kennedy Airport -- are alleged to have stolen computers, cell phones and other items from checked luggage with many of them selling the pilfered items to a pawn shop or to a 'fence' who was actually an undercover police officer," Brown said.

The suspects are identified as Khaleed Maynard, 28, Sheldon Theodore, 22, and Ryan Phillips, 35, who worked for Swissport at Terminal 4; Levi Miller, 47, Romero Hendricks, 30, and Tihafade Esdaile, 29, who were employed by Aircraft Services International Group at Terminal 4; and Keston Austin, 31, who worked for G.S.I. at Terminal 7.

Each of the suspects face grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property charges, Brown said.

For many travelers, the news was a wake-up call.

"I probably wouldn't put my jewelry in my checked bag," said traveler Kristie Cummings. "I hope it's still there."

The baggage handlers who were arrested were all working for subcontractors for airlines at JFK.

The items were allegedly taken from the suitcases of passengers traveling through Terminals 4 and 7 going to or coming from Japan, Hawaii, Johannesburg, London, Bangkok, Dubai, Milan as well as cities within the United States.

Authorities told CBS2 that little is done to monitor handlers when they have control of bags.

"It makes me concerned," said traveler George Cummings. "I mean, certainly, if you have jewelry, something like that, I'd want to put it somewhere I can keep a closer eye on it."

Police said the alleged thieves even fenced or sold the items on airport grounds, telling buyers there was plenty more where that came from.

The only trouble for them was that the buyers were undercover police officers.

Authorities said baggage thefts are now rampant, and anyone who puts their valuables in checked bags may never see them again.

Some travelers said they keep things close.

"My iPod, my phone, my charger – everything, always in my bag," one woman said.

If convicted, Theodore, Phillips, Miller, Hendricks and Esdaile face up to 4 years in prison.

Maynard and Austin face up to 7 years in prison.

"The Port Authority Police will continue to aggressively investigate complaints of baggage theft and arrest those, whether Port Authority employees or outside contractors, who violate the trust given them in handling property of the traveling public," said Port Authority Chief Security Officer Joseph P. Dunne.

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