Some travelers opt to keep their expensive items tucked in a checked bag, but dozens who did fell victim to an airline worker who is now facing 11 felony charges for stealing $85,000 in valuables from luggage.
Investigators say most of the victims were just passing through town, but their belongings found a permanent home in the Twin Cities after David Vang decided to take them home.
There are about 20,000 employees at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, and from baristas to baggage handlers, all those who work behind security need to pass a federal background check. Yet, this case and another involving a Transportation Safety Administration agent seem to suggest that it's no guarantee crime won't creep by.
On Friday, a TSA agent was arrested after being spotted stealing a wedding ring as it passed through the security screener, but charging documents allege Vang took his obsession for possessions to an extreme.
Vang, 23, worked deep behind the scenes as a contractor to Delta Airlines -- but in just a few months, he was able to get his hands on hundreds of bagged belongings.
"In fact, this guy really wasn't supposed to be touching any bags," said airport spokesperson Pat Hogan. "His job was to maintain the baggage belt system that carries the bag."
Court documents claim Vang tried to cover his tracks by targeting bags on connecting flights only.
"The challenge for airport police when that happens is that bag originated with the passenger in another city and was destined for another city, so it's difficult to know where the theft occurred," Hogan explained.
Inside Vang's St. Paul apartment, investigators found more than 700 items taken from passenger bags, including iPads, laptops, luxury watches, jewelry, hunting and fishing equipment and 10 guns reported missing between August and October of last year.
Many of the items were never reported stolen, but airport police suspected something was wrong last September after receiving numerous reports of missing handguns.
"The guns were actually checked in here because they weren't put in a bag with anything else," Hogan explained. "They have to be put in a case all by their own, and we saw they have been scanned as arriving here. They were not scanned as departing this airport. So, that's really what let us know there was something going on here."
That's when investigators installed closed-circuit TVs to catch Vang in the act.
"It was a crime of opportunity," Hogan said. "He found an area where he thought he could get away with it -- and for a short time, he did, but eventually, it came back to haunt him."
Some tips to protect yourself from baggage theft include:
- Avoid traveling with expensive luggage because it sends the message that something valuable could be inside
- Pay attention at security checkpoints and keep valuables inside a closed pocket
- Remember that it is not usually necessary to take off jewelry because precious metals won't set off the detector.