BWI Baggage Handlers Charged for Stealing from Iraq-Bound Soldiers' Luggage

LINTHICUM, Md. -- Three baggage handlers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport have been charged with stealing thousands of dollars worth of electronics from the luggage of soldiers heading to war in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Prosecutors charged two men last week. A third suspect was arrested in January.

Authorities said about 45 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were victimized.

"It's absolutely appalling that anyone would steal from soldiers who are heading into harm's way," Joe Davis, an Air Force veteran and spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Davis told The (Annapolis) Capital that he'd never heard of a theft ring that targeted service members' luggage.

Michael Harlee, 22, of Baltimore and Derek J. Murray, 20, of Glen Burnie were charged last week with felony theft. The third man, 20-year-old Shaka N. Watson of Baltimore, was arrested in January and is set to go to trial next month. His lawyer wasn't available for comment.

Police said more than 200 stolen items were seized from the three men's homes and from Mr. Watson's car. Police said that from November 2003 to November 2004, the men stole laptop computers, digital cameras, and video game systems, focusing on luggage belonging to men and women in the armed services.

The men targeted luggage belonging to men and women heading to and from the war zone.

"Anyone who goes to the airport these days knows the military's going through," said Michael Dunty, an assistant state's attorney in Anne Arundel County. "You can tell they're military."

Maryland Transportation Authority police began investigating late last year after getting a call from the Air Force's Air Mobility Command, which coordinates flights taking soldiers overseas and bringing them home. More than 30 soldiers at that point had reported having things stolen from their checked bags.

The three men charged in the thefts worked for Signature Flight Support, a contractor for Air Mobility Command. Police said they also stole from baggage on Air Canada flights, since Signature Flight Support has a contract with that airline. An official at Signature Flight Support said this morning the company wasn't likely to have any comment.

Detectives said they spoke to two men, not identified in court documents, who led them to Watson. He gave a confession during a Dec. 8 interview with detectives, court documents allege.

Police said they had a tough time tracking down the victims since so many were on their way overseas. About 8,000 to 9,000 Department of Defense passengers a month fly through BWI, officials said.

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