69 charged in pre-Olympics airport sweep

Dec. 12, 2001 at 1:47 PM
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SALT LAKE CITY, Dec. 12 (UPI) -- Authorities in Salt Lake City hoped to complete the arrests Wednesday of 69 airport workers who allegedly gave false information to conceal their criminal records or illegal immigration status in order to get jobs in secure areas of the airport.

The officials who announced the sweep late Tuesday said that while there was no evidence any of the workers had ties to terrorism, they did have access to airplanes, runways and cargo areas.

"These people were able to obtain security badges that put them one swipe away from access to the most secure areas of the airport," said U.S. Attorney Paul Warner.

Police and federal agents Tuesday swept through Salt Lake City International Airport -- the airport that will handle the bulk of the people flying in for the 2002 Winter Olympics -- looking for the 69 workers that were primarily charged with using falsified documents such as Social Security cards to obtain security clearances giving them access to secure areas of the airport.

Around two-dozen of the suspects were in custody by late Tuesday with the remainder expected to be picked up Wednesday.

"None of the individuals arrested that we know of are involved in any terrorism activity. This was a pre-emptive strike ... to ensure the people who work in secure areas are who they claim to be," said Robert Flowers, head of the Utah Department of Public Safety.

Warner said that the suspects included six U.S. citizens who allegedly hid criminal records; the others were from Latin America and apparently were only trying to land a job. All of the suspects worked for sub-contractors that provide security screening, aircraft cleaning and refueling, catering and construction.

"We think we had people who wanted to work and didn't have the proper documentation," Warner said.

The sweep comes in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States and prior to the Winter Olympics scheduled to begin in February.

Warner said the seven-week investigation, dubbed "Operation Safe Travel," was a priority due to the impending Olympics. Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson boasted to reporters that Salt Lake International was now "the safest (airport) in the country."

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