Complaints led to a sting operation against Dawn Nikole Keka
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Mar 16, 2011
A former Transportation Security Administration employee is facing a federal embezzling charge for allegedly stealing money from a traveler's wallet at a passenger checkpoint at the Kona airport.
TSA officials arrested Dawn Nikole Keka on Friday. She was a lead transportation security officer at Kona Airport.
Keka resigned from her job Monday, said TSA spokesman Nico Melendez.
The TSA said it conducted a sting operation targeting Keka in response to numerous allegations that she was stealing cash from Japanese travelers passing through her screening lane.
According to a criminal complaint filed in federal court yesterday, a TSA special agent posing as a Japanese tourist went through Keka's lane with 13 marked $100 bills in her wallet. The agent placed the wallet in a Hello Kitty backpack.
After the backpack went through the X-ray machine, the TSA said, Keka searched it with her back to the agent, discarded a bottle of liquid from the backpack and asked the "tourist" whether she is Japanese. The undercover agent nodded yes.
Keka then put the backpack through the X-ray machine a second time. A special agent with the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General said he saw Keka walk to the middle of the screening area and lean against a wall near the X-ray machine.
When the undercover agent got the backpack, she discovered two $100 bills missing from the wallet.
TSA agents arrested Keka and found the two missing bills crumpled in her right back pocket. They also found four other crumpled bills in her front pocket: two $100s, a $20 and a $10.
When TSA officials released Keka, she stood up and said, "I made a bad decision. I just made a bad decision," according to the criminal complaint.
The arrest came a week after the TSA disclosed it was investigating some of its security officers for allegedly failing to screen checked-in baggage for explosives, as their jobs require.
Melendez said he could not confirm the number of officers being investigated. A source close to the investigation said at least 27 officers are involved. The TSA employs about 750 people in Hawaii.