A lost pair of sunglasses might be chalked up to carelessness. A missing gold chain could have slipped off in a hotel room. Even an iPhone could have been misplaced in a rush to get through airport security. But eventually, it seemed clear that something was amiss in the baggage hold of El Al Airlines.
The mysterious trickle of disappearing items continued for months, and passengers at JFK Airport complained until the airline’s officials installed a video camera in the luggage hold. Then, the authorities said, they found the culprits.
Seven baggage handlers working on contract for the airline, which regularly flies between New York and Israel, were seen rifling through the bags that they were hired to load and unload onto the airline’s 747 aircraft, officials said.
They filled their pockets and their pant legs with cash, jewelry, cameras and computers — and even stole a $5,000 Seiko watch and a Sony PlayStation, officials said.
“When air travelers check their luggage with an airline, there is an implicit trust that their bags and their contents will meet them at their destination,” the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown, said in a statement on Friday. “It is always disheartening as a traveler to find that trust to be broken.”
The baggage handlers were identified as Tristan Bredwood, 22; Udhoo Doodnauth, 27; Julio Salas, 44; Dashawn Schooler, 25; Romaine Smith, 25; Oshaine Christie, 22; and Nkosi Cunningham, 24. None have entered pleas.
Mr. Smith and Mr. Cunningham were released on their own recognizance but ordered to return to court in the fall. The rest remained held, with bail set at $1,000. The authorities said the suspects admitted to stealing many of the items, some of which were later recovered from their homes and cars.
They were all arrested Wednesday, arraigned Thursday night in Queens Criminal Court and variously charged with third- and fourth-degree larceny, third-, fourth-, and fifth-degree criminal possession of stolen property, fourth-degree criminal mischief, petty larceny and attempted petty larceny.