Airport Worker Arrested in Smuggling Sting at O'Hare

Jan. 31, 2007
Employee took payoffs to smuggle U.S. currency past security onto overseas flights

CHICAGO_Federal investigators operating an undercover operation at O'Hare International Airport say an airport worker pocketed payoffs from an agent who sought to bypass security and smuggle U.S. currency onto overseas flights.

Riad Skaff, 67, of Skokie was charged Monday with bulk cash smuggling and evading cash reporting requirements. Under U.S. law, air travelers must declare if they are taking more than $10,000 (€7,739) outside the country.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Morton Denlow on Monday placed Skaff on home arrest, ordered him to surrender all airport security-access cards and forbade him from entering any airport, Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles Ex told the Chicago Tribune for a story on its Web site.

A telephone number for a Skaff in Skokie was unlisted. It was unclear Monday night whether he had an attorney.

Skaff, an employee of Sunline Services Inc., worked for Air France as a ground services coordinator whose airport security badge gave him access even to O'Hare's jetways and tarmac without undergoing screening, authorities said.

In return for cash payoffs totaling $21,500, (€16,640) Skaff agreed to circumvent security at O'Hare on three occasions between October 2005 and November 2006, the charges allege.

A message seeking comment was left at Sunline Services' O'Hare offices after business hours Monday.

Court documents allege an undercover Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent passed cash to Skaff in a public area in the international terminal. The agent then would pass through the security checkpoint without the cash, then Skaff would return it as the agent was about to board a flight, according to prosecutors.

The agent was able to smuggle a combined $396,000 (€306,478) in cash overseas. On one trip, he also smuggled a device capable of jamming cell phone reception, authorities said.

The agent posed as a businessman with interests in Lebanon, according to the charges. Authorities said Skaff is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Lebanon.