Airline Employee Abused Privileges to Smuggle Illegal Funds Through Security

Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Angel M. Melendez, the Special Agent in Charge of the New York Office of the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”), announced yesterday’s arrest of SCOTT McKINNEY, a flight attendant, for conspiracy to violate airport security requirements and operation of an unlicensed money transmitting business. McKINNEY will be presented later today in federal court in San Diego, California, before United States Magistrate Judge Andrew G. Schopler.

Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said: “As alleged, Scott McKinney abused his privileges as an airline employee, misusing the Known Crewmember lane to smuggle hundreds of thousands of dollars through security, in furtherance of an illegal money transmitting business. Thanks to the dedicated investigative work of HSI, McKinney’s illegal money transmitting business has been grounded.”

HSI Special Agent in Charge Melendez said: “As a Known Crewmember, McKinney allegedly took advantage of the security access allowed with his position by transmitting large sums of money across the country without a license. Those who choose to use their position’s security clearance at our airports to smuggle cash, narcotics, or any other unlawful good, pose a significant threat to our national security and our efforts are centered to shut down that vulnerability.”

According to the Complaint filed today in Manhattan federal court:[1]

Between July and November 2017, McKINNEY, a flight attendant based in California, conspired with others to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business and to violate airport security requirements. On several occasions, McKINNEY flew from California to New York to pick up packages containing $50,000 or more in cash at JFK Airport or other locations in New York City. McKINNEY then flew back to California with the cash. On some of these occasions, McKINNEY was on the ground at JFK Airport for two hours or less before flying back to California. At the time of these trips, McKINNEY did not have a money transmitting license in New York or California, and was not registered as a money transmitter with the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. In a statement to HSI agents on or about September 15, 2017, McKINNEY admitted that he was aware of the licensing requirement and lacked such a license.

To facilitate the operation of his illegal money transmitting business, McKINNEY used the Known Crewmember (“KCM”) lane to bypass regular airport security screening. The KCM lane allows approved airline crewmembers to pass through security more quickly and, typically, without having their carry-on luggage screened. On several occasions, McKINNEY wore his crewmember uniform and used the KCM security lane – even though he was not working on those occasions – to smuggle bulk cash through airport security.

For example, on September 15, 2017, McKINNEY flew from Los Angeles, landed at JFK Airport not wearing his crewmember uniform, entered the terminal, changed into his uniform, and retrieved a package from a co-conspirator in the airport parking garage. McKINNEY then used the KCM lane to smuggle the package through security. HSI agents subsequently approached McKINNEY while he was waiting to board a return flight to Los Angeles. During a search of McKINNEY’s carry-on luggage, agents found the package that he had just received in the parking garage, which contained approximately $54,000 in cash. McKINNEY told the agents that, on several prior trips, he had transported bulk cash from New York to California and then given the cash to a co-conspirator at the airport in Los Angeles.

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McKINNEY, 49, of San Diego, California, was arrested on December 18, 2017, in San Diego. McKINNEY is charged with one count of conspiracy to enter an aircraft or airport area in violation of security requirements and one count of conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The statutory maximum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Kim thanked HSI for its outstanding work on this investigation. He added that the investigation is continuing.

This matter is being handled by the Office’s Narcotics Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Michael D. Neff is in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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