TSA screener ripped off hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of electronics from passengers, TSA itself didn't notice

MadScott sez, "TSA Screener Pythias Brown walked off with hundreds of thousands of dollars of passengers' belongings without ever being observed by the TSA, selling the items on Ebay (apparently he was good about customer service).
Pythias started small, stealing cameras, laptop computers, gaming consoles and eventually moved on to the good stuff including a video camera belonging to CNN, and a $47,900 camera stored inside the bag of an HBO employee.

The items were sold on Ebay, and as you can see from his feedback listing, these were not cheap items.

His greed eventually came back to haunt him, when CNN found one of their cameras listed on Ebay. With a little help from the local police department and the USPS, Brown was apprehended.

When agents entered his house, they found 66 cameras, 31 laptop computers, jewelry, lenses, GPS devices and more.

TSA agent helped himself to a $47,900 camera (and more!) (Thanks, MadScott!)


  1. So they went to the local police? Good choice. Going to the TSA would have been the wrong play. It’s a wonder the local police had the gumption to take it to the TSA guy.

    Imageine the TSA goon, arrested: “You can’t bust me. I’m TSA”

  2. clear proof the TSA is a joke since this directly correlates to how easily a terrorist could infiltrate the TSA and plant a bomb in luggage.
    If there is a leak, it leaks both ways.

  3. “He was supposed to get married yesterday. He got arrested two weeks ago. Karma is sweet.”

    Wonder where he stole her.

  4. My advice for avoiding this: travel with a firearm. A TSA person inspects your bag right in front of you, and then it gets locked with ANY lock you care to put on it (even a standard padlock). The only catch is that you have to use a hard-sided case. Oh, and you have to make sure that what you are carrying is legal where you are going to.

    Ths wll wrk ntl bm mks ll gns llgl (h wld f h cld).

  5. #7 bingo

    Terrorist: I’ll give you five grand in cash to put this in my luggage after it passes the security screen.

    TSA Guy: What is it?

    Terrorist: Uh, bootleg dvd’s. Here’s $2500, you get the rest when it arrives.

    TSA Guy: No problem.

  6. Some significant number of the hundreds of victims must have complained to the airlines when their stuff went missing. Were those complaints all ignored or did they just not put two and two together?

  7. My very first job, at age 16, was selling “Eva Gabor Wigs” in the millinery department of Goldwater’s Department Store.

    As employees, we had to enter and exist the store through a secured entrance and were only allowed to carry with us small see-through cases with some money, lipstick, keys, aspirin, etc.

    So I am a bit baffled as to why the mouth-breathing assholes who work for the TSA have a system that allows them to get away with whole laptops, cameras etc.

  8. So, is everyone who left feedback on eBay guilty of buying stolen merchandise? Isn’t that also a crime?

    Do they give back the stolen items, and then get their money back from PayPal / the thief?

    My advice for avoiding this: travel with a firearm. A TSA person inspects your bag right in front of you, and then it gets locked with ANY lock you care to put on it (even a standard padlock). The only catch is that you have to use a hard-sided case. Oh, and you have to make sure that what you are carrying is legal where you are going to.

    Ditto that, for domestic flights inside the USA.

  9. After seeing someone selling lots of “NTSA Seizure” knives on eBay, this doesn’t surprise me at all. Also, the guy whose custom neck knife ended up in those sales must be kicking himself for wearing it to the airport.

  10. No price is too high, no life too dear, no property so precious, that it would prevent us from Protecting America from Terrorists.

  11. I’m curious about the “pack a gun” post. Won’t I have to have a permit to carry at my destination?

    For the curious:

  12. @Secret_Life_of_Plants

    They have such a system so that they can steal. A feature, not a bug. People who have had their things stolen by the TSA have been watching their stuff sold on eBay for years. I knew about it five years ago. Not a secret that the TSA was “saving” us and selling our stuff.

    Same thing with drug cops stealing houses and cars, same thing with computer election systems. The system is wiggy because it was designed to steal.

  13. come to think of it, plastic water pistol is probably the cheapest way. The hard case becomes the major investment.

  14. My favorite quote was the picture on Gizmodo. It’s got some airport security person looking at bags, and she goes, “I ALWAYS wanted a Virtual Boy!”

  15. As employees, we had to enter and exist the store through a secured entrance and were only allowed to carry with us small see-through cases with some money, lipstick, keys, aspirin, etc.

    Department store makeup retailers are also currently extremely scrutinizing in this way, in an attempt to control inventory shrinkage.

  16. The hard case becomes the major investment.

    Any more than luggage generally?

    (Ok, I just checked and it’s actually about twice as expensive for the same sized bag; at least according to the MSRP from Halliburton.)

  17. …Then there is the Bibliothèque nationale in Paris where, when you enter, you go to a coat-check type of place and they give you a clear plastic briefcase/satchel …you take out everything you might need from your backpack or bag — computer, camera, keys, security cable, money, phone, pens, notes, etc. — and transfer them to the clear case.

    Then you use your personal card to go through 2 checkpoints until you get to your reserved seat in the library. You then order your books from the computer with your card. Once your books arrive you cannot leave the building unless and until you turn in all the books (microfilm, microfiche etc.) — even if you just left your batteries upstairs in your bag and need to run and get them.

    This is all really irritating, but then again no one has ever stolen anything from me at the BN.

    I just think it is funny that there are so many rules to look at a book Paris and yet these TSA “Security” people can steal their hearts out.

    And yes, I know it is all by design.

  18. As a person who travels frequently and had to deal with several issues with the TSA. I can assure you he is not the only one stealing stuff. And in some cases the theft of items is done with the blessing of TSA management.

    An item can be removed from you bag because they perceive it as dangerous. They do not have to inform you that something has been removed nor do they have to make any effort to return it to you.

    I have had to get my congressman involved in just one of the many issues I have had with the TSA in order to recover items.

  19. My girl used to work at jfk airport in a store. The TSA people take so much stuff from people. One time she brought perfume with her in her bag and she had to leave it with them when she asked for it a big fat TSA lady said she was lucky she came now cause the fat lady was gonna take it home. My girl also said that their isn’t anyone really trying protect anything its just about snooping around in your stuff. They barely check your credentials when walking through areas. and they have the nerve to fine 10000 dollars to an employee who doesn’t have their badge strapped to their chest.

  20. #21

    Most gun laws in the US pertain to carrying a concealed weapon. Transporting a weapon (in your trunk for example) is not illegal. The key clause in most states is that it is not readily accessible for immediate use.

  21. geez it really is a criminal Administration.
    Designed to hurt people…

    I knew this the day Bush chose to spend money appropriated for Afghanistan on another troop buildup on the Kuwaiti border.

    The rules are for everyone but the Executive now.

  22. This would be why ALL my really valuable stuff was in my carry- on. Yes I constantly had to explain that those cables were the power cord for the computer (seems many TSA are a bit fuzzy about technology) but i kept my stuff.

  23. h h. tht’s wht y gt whn y hr fckng DT t rn yr cntry nd lt hm tk wy ll f yr frdm n th nm f scrty. y stpd cnts!

  24. the idea that corrupt border guards steal your possessions belongs in a banana republic…. Kind of like those countries where you are suddenly required on entry to have “vaccinations” – with a filthy shared syringe – unless you have the cash to get that waived. Say, didn’t they just make Gardasil injections mandatory?

  25. We shouldn’t have to take all these strange measures to keep our belongings from being stolen by federal employees. Until that happy day, here’s my travel tip.

    The TSA won’t let you put locks on your luggage that they can’t open, but there’s no prohibition on locks inside your luggage.

    I like chunky stone necklaces — basically, I wear my rock collection — but they’re heavy. I usually put my jewelry in my carry-on luggage, but sometimes I can’t deal with the weight. On those occasions, I padlock all my jewelry together, then padlock the whole bundle to the inside of my suitcase.

    It’s all fully inspectable, but you can’t just steal one item. You have to take the whole thing. It’s useful to be more trouble than you’re worth.

    Sometimes, when I’m feeling ornery, I include a polite note explaining that I have an inventory list and photos of the entire contents of the bag.

  26. here’s one to drive them crazy: get a bunch of cheap-ass counterfeit Rolexes,perfumes, electronics etc and fill a bag to the brim.Then dump in a few gallons of clear casting acrylic. Then have happy smiles at the expressions on their faces when the see the goodies behind impenetrable glass. Maybe imbed a video camera to record them?

  27. Brainspore and Pollyannacowgirl raise some interesting questions.

    Brainspore @14:

    Some significant number of the hundreds of victims must have complained to the airlines when their stuff went missing. Were those complaints all ignored or did they just not put two and two together?

    Pollyannacowgirl @17:

    Brainspore, I was wondering that, too.

    And someone else was in on it. Had to be.

    If the TSA were adequately monitoring theft and smuggling among TSA employees, Pythias Brown’s thefts should have stuck out like a sore thumb. They’re not owning up to the inadequacy of their procedures. Instead, they’re doing what the TSA always does: lying about it. Here’s a fairly complete version of the story. See if you can spot the TSA’s impossible assertion about Mr. Brown’s one-man crime wave.

    In the meantime:

    Boing Boing, O1 March 2008 $31 million worth of lost valuables on the TSA’s watch.

    The case of the straying uniform:

    TSA Uniform Mysteriously Appears In Woman’s Luggage. And if the implications of that don’t scare you, they should.

    TSA denies woman’s luggage was searched by TSA employee, because there was no note left in her suitcase.

    Next, The TSA says a screener took off his shirt in a hot bag room and it fell off a hook into the luggage while he was inspecting it. Just one problem with that: the shirt was folded up and packed in with the rest of her clothes.

    The tale of yet another uniform:

    TSA uniform found for sale in thrift shop in Hawaii. Not the one in the luggage. This is a different uniform.

    The TSA addresses the problem:

    TSA gets all-new uniforms.

    And how long did that last?

    UPI: Latest report slams TSA for failure to track security passes, uniforms.

    New York Metro InfraGard: Thousands of Airport Security Badges and Uniform Items Missing.

    Extra-credit projects:

    Want TSA insignia?

    Or a uniform?

    Suggestions for further reading:

    The Travel Safety/Security Forum. An interesting place, with resident experts and a good signal-to-noise ratio.

    The Travel Safety/Security Forum discusses that harsh new report.

    The Travel Safety/Security Forum Glossary. A mixture of useful official terminology and profound cynicism.

  28. snick;
    UV = Ultra Violet = Blacklight = Magic flashlight = a handheld device for the Government make work program to employ TDCs, who shine it on 2 million IDs per day to make sure none contain the invisible secret phrase “This passenger is really Osama Bin Laden in disguise”. Success rate to date = 100%.

  29. Stealing from thieves is a crime?
    WOW what will the tsa do now?
    hire the guy as a marketing engineer?
    dipsticks, every darn one of em.

  30. So no one took me up on the challenge? I was looking forward to someone else noticing that, contrary to the TSA’s estimate that Mr. Brown could have stolen upwards of one hundred items from travelers going through Newark, the number of items police seized from Brown’s house adds up to 186; and when you throw in his eBay auctions, it’s 449.

    Of course, we don’t have all the information on his auctions if they happened more than 90 days ago, but you can make a good case for the proposition that most of them were items stolen from travelers. Purchaser reviews stay up forever on eBay. Some of them mention the specific item. Other imply a specific item (viz., it’s scratched, and the flash doesn’t work), or at least indicate the class of objects: it works just fine, but it’s missing its instruction manual.

    I scanned through all of the reviews from Pythias Brown’s customers. In very nearly every case where a specific item was mentioned, or where the review indicated the kind of object being sold, it was a piece of consumer electronic gear. I think it’s reasonable to assume that the unspecified items were the same. Also, the mix is the same as in the recent auction listings, and in the gear seized from Brown’s house: a lot of cameras, plus the occasional phone, game system, GPS unit, laptop, CD player, et cetera.

    Of course, when you get to the recent auctions, you can see exactly what he was doing:

    Oct-02: CANON 70-200MM F2.8 IS USM CAMERA LENS: $1,377
    Sep-21: NIKON NIKKOR 70-200MM F/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR LENS: $1,400
    Sep-17: APPLE MACBOOK PRO 15″ 2.4 GHZ, 2GB, 200GB, LEOPARD: $1,600
    Sep-15: CANON EOS DIGITAL REBEL XT WITH 18-55 & 28-210MM LENS: $405
    Sep-05: OLYMPUS EVOLT E-500 8 MP SLR W/14-45 & 40-150MM LENS: $355
    Aug-25: NIKON AF-S VR 70-200MM F/2.8 G IF ED 70-200MM NIKKOR: $1,600
    Jul-24-08 0: CANON EOS DIGITAL REBEL XTI WITH 18-55MM LENS: $510
    Jul-23: HP PAVILLION DV9819WM DUAL CORE 3G 160GB 17″ DVDRW WEB: $660

    The other thing that’s strongly suggested by the reviews is that Brown didn’t start stealing things and selling them on eBay in September 2007. That may be the starting point he admits to, and the one the TSA is citing; but it sure looks like he got started around November 2006, and hit his stride in January of 2007.

    As I said in an earlier comment, if the TSA had been making reasonable efforts to follow up on complaints about thefts, Brown would have shown up bright and clear on their radar. (If anyone’s interested, I’ll point out patterns in his timing that would have fingered him, if the TSA had been looking to find out who at Newark was stealing all those cameras.) It’s not like he was some kind of criminal mastermind. He was mailing customers their purchases using his own home as the return address, and using credit cards rather than cash to pay the postage. The TSA didn’t notice a thing. What cracked this case was HBO spotting their stolen camera on eBay, then working with the local police in New Jersey.

    More on the implications later.

  31. Personally, if I were a wicked evil terrorist, the jobs I’d target would be in the TSA department in charge of investigating internal corruption. Employees who are on the take are pre-made breaches of security, because if you want to suborn airport-level personnel, having them dead to rights on grand theft is a great place to start.

  32. @@@I was going to Belize Central America in August 2007 and the TSA confiscated my unopened jar of honey roasted peanut butter.@@@

    You can bring food on the plane. I was going to ask for a supervisor but said it was not worth it. Peanut butter is expensive there and my friends asked me for some. I was pissed off. Luckily I had sent some in the mail before I left.

    ????? Has anyone ever hijacked a plane with peanut butter?

    I can see it now, “Don’t anyone move, I’ve got peanut butter. My demands are the following: A loaf of multi-grain bread, organic grape jelly , $25,000,00.00 wired to my paypal account and a fully fueled 757 with a full bar! If you think I’m playing I’ll open this jar. Now every sit down and shut the fudge up!”

    Maybe next time I’ll just spread the peanut butter on my butt and make sure it’s chunky style. What would they do then if they found it? Maybe tackle me and still Ritz Crackers in my crack.

    *********Next they’ll have trained peanut sniffing elephants at the airport!**********

  33. Ever noticed how many airport security setups have all suspect liquids going into the same barrel? If the TSA actually thought they were dangerous, they’d never dispose of them that way.

  34. Now I realize how I lost my Suduko video game kept in my baggage when I travelled early this year. At check-in they ask us not to lock baggages. Its a shame on TSA and for the country itself.

  35. hmmmm… what if people, pissed off at being ripped off, left some “present” in their more attractive possessions? Not anything deadly – that would be “wrong”.

    A citizens “Bust the Thieving TSA” group. Trackable RFID markers in bait goods. If the clowns in charge of the clowns can’t be bothered, nothing stopping private enterprise from busting these goniffs. Just word getting out that goods are tagged would help.

  36. come to think of it, an internet database of photographs of the nastier TSA fondlers and shriekers, publicly accessible so the worst offenders could be identified and overwhelming reported to their negligent bosses.

  37. I have had items stolen from my luggage twice in the last few years, including my camera a few months ago. I was traveling through Newark both times.

  38. plenty of GPS property marking systems out there, time to set up some stings. Hey, MAYBE Kip Hawley could do it himself? Ya think?

  39. Ever noticed how many airport security setups have all suspect liquids going into the same barrel? If the TSA actually thought they were dangerous, they’d never dispose of them that way.

    Quite right. Moreover, TSA goons love it if you act as if you believe everything you’re told about the War on Moisture, and then freak the fuck out when you see them mixing all those explosive chemicals into one big barrel!

    “Oh my GOD! You just tossed that explosive liquid into a trash can full of other explosive liquids!!! Are you trying to get us all KILLED?!!!” etc.

    Because what TSA really hates most is if you hold everyone up more by underscoring that their security theater is holding everyone up.

  40. What does the EPA have to say about this network of no-doubt-improperly-disposed-of toxic waste barrels scattered willy nilly unsupervised across the country?

  41. OSHA? Then why aren’t the people pouring the slop in the barrels in full environment suits with canned air?

  42. “Once made, TATP is a white crystalline solid material which is filtered and then dried at room temperature. The crystalline material is extremely friction-sensitive and must be handled with great care. An accidental shock, heat from a nearby cigarette, or screwing on a bottle cap with trace material caught in the threads all have the potential to ignite the material.

    Because of its instability, TATP is usually made just before it is to be used in a bomb. If the material is made and then stored, the crystals are stored underwater in a vessel without a screw cap. Crystalline material left sitting out at room temperature for a period of time will begin to sublime, a process where the solid goes to a gas without passing through a liquid phase, as most chemical compounds do. The gas produced is highly toxic and dangerous. “

  43. Don’t know what TATP is and I’m definitely afraid to google it.

    When I was working, my tools were searched in front of me, then sealed and locked with my non-TSA locks. I always requested my bags be inspected, before being checked at the counter.

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