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Ex-TSA screener admits theft, faces additional allegations

By Nelson Daranciang

LAST UPDATED: 10:46 a.m. HST, Apr 26, 2011

Former Transportation Security Administration screener Dawn Nikole Keka, who admitted stealing $200 from an undercover agent posing as a Japanese tourist, faces additional similar allegations, said federal prosecutor Michael Song.

The TSA's Office of Inspector General targeted Keka, who was lead TSA officer at Kona Airport, for a sting operation last month because it had received reports from five female Japanese tourists that Keka stole money from them in amounts ranging from $20 to $500, Song said.

Keka, 35, pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to misdemeanor theft and was hoping to get sentenced at the same time. The charge carries maximum penalties of one year in jail, one year of supervised release and $100,000 fine.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Kurren said he will not sentence Keka until the court's pretrial services do a presentence investigation and report in part because of Song's revelations. He scheduled sentencing for July.

In the meantime, Keka remains free on $5,000 signature bond.

Following the publicity of Keka's arrest, other travelers and even some of Keka's former coworkers have stepped forward with more theft accusations, Song said. One man claims he lost $9,000, he said.

Keka faced similar accusations in a previous job at a local bank, Song said.

"This is a public relations nightmare for TSA," Song said.

Keka's public defender, Salina Althof, said the government doesn't have evidence to prove the allegations which prompted the sting operation.

Song said the government wasn't able to pursue the reports because the alleged victims returned to Japan.

Althof said Keka was having family and financial difficulty at the time and committed a crime of opportunity.

The TSA conducted the sting and arrested Keka on March 11, one day after an earthquake and tsunami devastated Japan. Keka resigned from her job the following Monday.

She said she took two $100 bills from the undercover agent's backpack while searching it for contraband.

Song said Keka concealed her actions by facing her back to a surveillance camera. He said he believes Keka knew the surveillance camera was there and had her back to it the other times she is accused of taking money from Japanese travelers.

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