Baggage Handler Gets Two Years for Stealing From Travelers

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- An Anne Arundel County judge sentenced a former Baltimore baggage handler at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to two years in prison Thursday for stealing from travelers - including troops traveling to and from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Shaka Watson, 20, was part of what Maryland Transportation Authority police called a major felony theft scheme that targeted international travelers at the airport the military uses as a hub for transporting troops.

''Watson was really taking comfort away from people going overseas to fight for freedoms he enjoys,'' said State's Attorney Frank Weathersbee.

Watson pleaded guilty to taking a laptop from a woman who traveled on Air Canada through BWI in September 2004. Prosecutors agreed not to charge him in five other cases in exchange for his testimony against Michael Harlee, 22, of Baltimore and Derek Murray, 20, of Glen Burnie, baggage handlers charged in the case last month. The men worked for Signature Flight Support, based in Orlando, Fla., a contractor for the Air Force's Air Mobility Command, which coordinates flights taking soldiers overseas.

Officials investigating reports from 31 soldiers whose belongings were missing arrested Watson at work in December. He admitted to investigators that he stole the laptop while working and said he had also stolen items from troops too.

Investigators found hundreds of CDs and DVDs, watches, cameras, laptops and other electronics at Watson's home, in his car and at his brother's home. Watson has agreed to forfeit those items.

''I realize the stupidity in my actions,'' he wrote in a statement to police. ''I apologize to the men and women of the United States military. I only did it to get some money to help my girlfriend and I with our financial situations. Which doesn't make my actions okay, but like I said, I apologize.''

Department of Defense officials are still trying to reunite troops with their items.

Judge Michele Jaklitsch called the crime ''appalling,'' especially since it took advantage of military travelers ''at a time when they needed the support of the country and its citizens.''

The economic cost to state, customs and defense officials and the victims is immense, she said.

''The dollar hours, I couldn't add them up if I wanted to,'' Jaklitsch said.