MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Miami International Airport has come a long way since the famous “Ramp Rats” arrests in 1999 of dozens of airport workers who were accused of moving drugs and other contraband on international flights.
More than a decade after this embarrassing chapter, federal agents said “ramp rats” still exist at the airport.
This month, they arrested a ramp worker involved in the theft of a solid gold bar from a shipment arriving on an American Airlines flight from Ecuador.
The FBI said the worker was seen on ramp surveillance video covering his face with a blanket as he drove off the tarmac with the gold bar, which was later found at his house.
This month, teams of federal agents and airport security swept through secure areas of the airport, unannounced, looking for vulnerabilities in the security system, and for workers who might be trying to sneak-in, or sneak-out, contraband.
Assistant MIA Director Lauren Stover told CBS4 during the sweep, “Occasionally we find an internal conspiracy and that’s when we detect it, disrupt it, and dismantle it.”
CBS4 News went along on the unannounced security sweep, which included spot checks and searches of trucks out on the ramp. Homeland Security Investigations Deputy Special Agent in Charge John Tobon told CBS4, “We want to make sure that whatever they are bringing in or taking out is supposed to be what they’re bringing in.” Tobon also said that airport workers, “are very valuable to criminal organizations. There’s 30,000 people at this airport who have an ID that can get to different areas of this airport. Any criminal organization would be willing to pay top dollar to have any of these individuals on their payroll.”
MIA conducts several surprise sweeps like this throughout the year. In addition to truck and vehicle searches, employee ID’s and backgrounds are checked and cross-referenced with open criminal warrants.
“What we do is check the employees to make sure their ID’s are all valid,” said Tobon. “The purpose is to make sure there’s no contraband, weapons, or prohibited items being introduced on to our airfield.”