By Pierre Thomas, Theresa Cook and Jack Date
Nov. 7, 2007
After government investigators reported finding that workers with
counterfeit badges had gained access to restricted areas at Chicago
O'Hare International Airport, it triggered a series of arrests that has
officials questioning security at one of the nation's busiest airports.
Authorities arrested more than 20 suspects, all believed to be illegal
immigrants, after federal agents found they were allegedly using fake
and expired security badges that allowed them widespread access to the
airport, including unfettered access to commercial planes.
The workers, who loaded food and cargo onto aircraft, were employees of
Ideal Staffing Services Inc., a temporary employment company whose
managers allegedly assisted in getting them bogus security badges.
A corporate officer and office manager employed with Ideal Staffing were
also arrested Wednesday as part of the investigation.
"We can have no tolerance for people who set up businesses for people
with fake identities to have access to secure areas of the airport,"
U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said at a press conference announcing
Ideal Staffing's Mary Gurin, 36, of Carpentersville, Ill., and Norinye
Benitez, 24, of Franklin Park, Ill., each face one count of harboring
illegal aliens for financial gain, and an additional count of misuse of
Social Security numbers.
Authorities said Benitez herself is in the United States illegally, and
that Gurin was aware of her reputed illegal immigration status but still
signed her airport badge application.
An affidavit filed by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement special
agent stated that in a Nov. 4 interview with Benitez, she said that
"Gurin is the person who directs her work at Ideal Staffing," and that
"Benitez also stated that she advised Gurin that she was an illegal
alien at around the time she began working for Ideal Staffing."
According to a separate affidavit detailing Benitez's alleged
activities, on her application for a security badge "she used an SSN
[Social Security number] with the last four digits of 6291. The SSN used
was issued to a person with a different name in Iowa in 1973."
But authorities said Benitez's suspicious badge application is one of
many they found in their investigation.
The government said more than 100 workers possessed fraudulently
obtained badges originally issued by the Chicago Department of Aviation.
The company managers allegedly gave their workers old or deactivated
badges, which allowed access to secure areas at the facility, including
the tarmac and cargo warehouses.
The affidavit stated that in one instance, Benitez told one of Ideal
Staffing Solutions' workers to sort through "a box containing
approximately 20 airport security badges" of past employees and "pick
one with a picture that most closely resembled his own likeness." The
employee, who is cooperating with the investigation, told investigators
he used one of the badges in the box to gain access to a United Airlines
The agent's statement added that the Chicago Department of Aviation's
records showed that the selected badge "had been deactivated and should
not be used for airport security access," and that the employee was
never fingerprinted for a background check as regulations require.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said that early last
month, agents reviewed more than 150 badge applications submitted by the
company for 120 of its employees. In the affidavit, the agent reported
that "110 of the applications listed Social Security numbers that either
do not exist or belong to other persons, some of which were deceased."
ABC News called Ideal Staffing's Bensenville, Ill., office, but a voice
mail message left for Gurin has not been returned.
"The fact that we didn't pick this up, says that our system is broken
and it's absolutely terrifying that this kind of situation would go on,"
House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told ABC
If they are convicted, Gurin and Benitez could face a maximum penalty of
10 years in prison on the harboring charge, and five years for misusing
Social Security numbers.
The workers arrested on state charges could face a maximum of three
years in prison if found guilty.
Security officials said this case showed that despite all the billions
spent securing airports since the Sept. 11 attacks, in some cases
airports do not have a handle on who is working in sensitive areas or on
some of the planes.
Concerned Homeland security officials told ABC News they are planning
more investigations at airports across the country, worried that if such
a breach could happen at O'Hare, it could happen anywhere.
Copyright 2007 ABC News Internet Ventures
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