ST. LOUIS — Eight contract baggage handlers for Delta Airlines rifled through hundreds of bags of luggage at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport over a period of more than a year, stealing some 900 items ranging from laptops and iPods to cologne and cigarettes, airport police said Thursday.
Formal charges have not been filed, and names of the suspects were not released.
Airport Police Chief Paul Mason said the workers were employed by St. Louis-based Huntleigh USA, hired by Delta to handle baggage. Huntleigh chief executive officer Richard Sporn said all eight workers were fired.
"It clearly is an unfortunate situation and we are distressed by the news," Sporn said. "Unfortunately we are not the first for something like this to happen. All we can do is learn from this and try to make sure it doesn't happen again."
At a news conference at the airport, most of the recovered items were laid out on tables. The thieves targeted expensive goods: mostly electronic devices, games, computers and computer equipment. There also were more mundane items — cartons of cigarettes, battery chargers, even cologne.
Mason asked anyone who believes they were victimized to call a special hot line: 314-890-1822. Victims will be asked to somehow prove stolen items are theirs. For example, they may be asked to cite directions on a stolen GPS, or songs on a stolen iPod.
Delta said in a written statement that it was working with authorities on the case. A spokeswoman declined to elaborate and would not say if the Atlanta-based airline would consider ending its contract with Huntleigh.
Airport police track all reports of stolen items from luggage, and Mason said the thefts apparently began 12 to 15 months ago.
In January, airport detective Eric Williams noticed a pattern. A tip from an airport employee confirmed his suspicion that workers at the airport were stealing.
Williams developed suspects and began interviewing them earlier this month. Mason said the suspects admitted to the crime and even led authorities to a home in Jersey County, Ill., where one of the suspects lives. Many of the stolen goods were found at that home.
Mason said the workers were opening bags before placing them on outbound flights. "They were carrying (stolen items) out in their coats, or fannypacks, or backpacks," he said.
Huntleigh only provides baggage handling services at Lambert for Delta. Mason said the thefts have raised concerns for other airlines, too, though he believes it was an isolated incident.
"I've been here 20 years and this is the first time we've had anything of this magnitude," he said.