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Tampa International baggage handlers arrested after thefts

TAMPA — Three Tampa International Airport baggage handlers have been charged with dealing in stolen property taken from Continental Airlines passengers' luggage.

TIA police arrested the men Friday and identified them as subcontractors who worked for DAL Global Services, an Atlanta company hired by Continental to provide airport support personnel.

Cell phones, digital cameras, sunglasses, laptops and a Global Positioning System tracking device were among the stolen items that police said they recovered. Detectives say they are trying to contact all the theft victims.

A TIA spokeswoman had no comment Sunday, citing the ongoing investigation.

Arrest reports did not indicate how long the thefts have been taking place or how they were accomplished.

Julie King, a spokeswoman for Continental, said she would not have details of the investigation until today.

All three suspects are Tampa residents, and two remained in custody Sunday night. Police charged Ernie A. Azucey, 23, of 8510 N Hyaleah Road with 33 counts of dealing in stolen property. His bail was set at $247,500. Efrain "Junjo" Malave-Bermudez Jr., 34, of 6720 S Lois Ave., Apt. 7108, faces seven counts of dealing in stolen property. His bail was set at $52,500.

Juan David Ayende-Nieves, 52, of 2004 E Lake Ave., Apt. D, was charged with four counts of dealing in stolen property. He was released Saturday on $30,000 bail.

Arrest reports said Continental officials tracked the thefts through a laptop outfitted with a monitoring device by the security company Absolute Software. The airline directed the laptop to a Houston-bound flight leaving Tampa on March 12 and reported it stolen in Houston when it did not arrive.

The tracking device was designed to activate once someone activated the laptop and connected it to the Internet, the arrest report said.

The security company's software system detected the computer's use Tuesday, when an unidentified woman accessed a MySpace account.

She continued using the Internet during the next two days, and detectives contacted her Friday. She told investigators that the laptop came from her boyfriend's father, baggage handler Ayende-Nieves.

Ayende-Nieves told police that he bought the laptop for $350 from Azucey. He said he believed the property was stolen because it was so cheap and that he had other items he believed were stolen, including an iPod Shuffle and a digital camera.

Azucey told police that he bought the laptop from another man he had witnessed stealing from checked luggage in the past. The arrest report listed that man's name as Rene Lopez.

From Azucey's home, detectives recovered a Dell laptop, three cell phones, five digital cameras, nine pairs of sunglasses, two FM transmitters, two iPods, a Garmin GPS device, seven cell phone chargers, an MP3 player, a calculator, a card reader and three pairs of headphones. Azucey told police that he purchased the items from Lopez.

Additional information on Lopez's connection to the case or potential charges or arrest was unavailable Sunday. Additional information about Malave-Bermudez was also unavailable.

According to its Web site, DAL Global Services is a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines that provides staffing to more than three dozen airlines in areas that include passenger handling, cabin and cargo services, and aircraft and ground support equipment maintenance.

The employees who collect baggage curbside for Continental work for G2 Secure Staff. Those employees don't work with the Delta Global Services baggage handlers, who move luggage after it has been checked.

TIA's curbside baggage handlers said Sunday that they did not know those arrested.

Times staff writer Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report. Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Tampa International baggage handlers arrested after thefts 03/30/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 4:54pm]
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