As James Blocker reviewed images in the airport’s checked baggage screening room, he couldn’t quite make out if what was alarming on the bag’s pull handle was a threat or not. Going with his gut instinct, the Philadelphia International Airport TSA officer referred the bag for search.
“The location of the [alarm on the bag] caused me to question what the item was because I felt it was artfully concealed,” Blocker explained. “[It] was not in an area where people place items.”
Blocker informed TSA property search officer Thomas Mount of his concerns. Noticing a bulge on the outside of the bag, Mount began the search to identify why the bag alarmed and cause of the visible bulge – an obvious sign of tampering.
“After removing all the contents of the bag I saw what appeared to be a couple pieces of black duct tape along the seams of the [inside of the] bag,” Mount shared. “Moving the tape, I noticed there was space between the liner and fabric. I was able to slightly feel something, but couldn’t see anything. In order to gain access to this area, I pulled up on the hard liner.”
To the surprise of both officers, they discovered three vacuum sealed bags with 21 stacks of $100-dollar bills totaling $250,000 artfully concealed under the hard-sided cover of the bag’s lining.
The officers, each 15-year veterans of TSA this year, have never seen such a large amount of cash concealed inside a bag.
“I was shocked because of the overall amount,” Blocker said.
Blocker called for a supervisor. Supervisory TSA Officer Paul Califano conducted a follow-up search of the bag and confirmed the artful concealment.
“I couldn’t believe that there was [that] much currency placed in a checked bag,” Califano said. “What stood out the most was how the money was packaged. Each stack of currency seemed to be the same thickness and [they] were equally spaced in the vacuum package.”
Once he determined it was free of any threats, Califano briefed police, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and reached out to the airline manager to confirm the passenger did not have any additional bags.
HSI spoke with the passenger, who denied having any cash in his checked bag. HSI seized the currency and the bag was rescreened and cleared.
“I am very proud of our officers here at Philadelphia,” Federal Security Director Gerardo Spero said. “This is a great catch and a testament to our leadership, it demonstrates how training and employee vigilance continue to keep passengers safe as they travel through Philadelphia International Airport.”
By Ariana Diaz, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs