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Exclusive: CBS 2's Explosive Report On JFK Baggage Thefts Leads To Demands On FAA

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- There was outrage and a demand for action Tuesday to make traveling safer for passengers following a CBS 2 exclusive report about rampant theft of luggage at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The baggage scandal has prompted calls for the Federal Aviation Administration to put undercover agents in the bellies of airplanes, CBS 2's Marcia Kramer reports.

It was a stunning discovery by Long Island resident Rita Lamberg after $160,000 of her jewelry was stolen from her luggage at JFK.

"There are no cameras in the baggage once it's in the plane. Once they took my overnight into the plane that's where they took all the jewelry," Lamberg said,

Several baggage handlers were recently arrested for the crime, but that usually doesn't happen. The bad guys frequently are almost never caught at JFK, where law enforcement sources told Kramer that thefts at the airport have increased at a staggering and alarming rate. There are now more than 200 a day – and that's every day.

Sources said baggage handlers, jetway workers and even security people are all in on the ongoing scam to steal you blind.

"It's devastating. It's almost like your home being robbed," Sen. Charles Schumer told Kramer on Tuesday.

Schumer is now demanding that the FAA install more security cameras, even in the belly of the airplanes where, sources said, a lot of the crimes take place. However, he said even that is not enough.

"I think there should be some undercover agents in the belly of the plane," Sen. Schumer said. "They're probably less able to be caught, less able to be seen, but the answer to that would be having undercover agents there who can witness this."

Attorney Kenneth Mollins is representing Lamberg as she tries to get reimbursed by the airlines. He said he's discovered that the problem is rampant.

"The belly of the airplane has become like a flea market for airport employees. They go through all the luggage unencumbered, unchecked," Mollins said.

Former NYPD detective Frank Shea has been hired by other clients who have been ripped off at the airport. He said many passengers never find out that their luggage was stolen, adding that would be bad for business. He said the airlines say its "lost in transit."

"If they reported a bag stolen every time a bag went missing you would probably have to set up a precinct at certain airlines," Shea said.

After the theft all Lamberg has left is an empty jewelry drawer and pictures of her valuables.

"I can't believe it happened to me," she said.

There to be a pretty good reason why luggage theft at JFK has skyrocketed. Sources told Kramer that a "significant" number of workers have criminal backgrounds.

To get a job handling luggage at JFK the requirement is simple -- no felony convictions within 10 years. But if you manage to cop a plea and get the charges reduced, that's apparently okay. Kramer asked former detective Shea about it.

Kramer: "You have a criminal record of misdemeanors or you were arrested for a felony and it was plead down. Could you still get a job there?"

Shea: "You could."

Shea didn't bat an eye when Kramer told him that law enforcement sources had told her a "significant" number of airport employees have records, even for drugs or robbery.

"If somebody committed a multiplicity of crime in the past they're excused. They can be hired," Mollins said.

Kramer: "You're telling me that people that have been convicted of crime, even if it's a misdemeanor, are handling valuable luggage?"

Mollins: "I'm telling you that, yes. I'm telling you people, when they're hired at paid minimum wage and all you can steal."

"I am so upset that I'm actually sick over the whole thing," Lamberg added.

Senator Schumer is also demanding that the FAA change the requirements and do more thorough background checks and fingerprinting.

"Somebody, for instance, who has a drug problem, is very likely to steal luggage or steal from the luggage so I think they ought to change the standard for people," Schumer said. "Those people should not be baggage handlers. The FAA should figure out how to stop it."

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