Three East Palo Alto residents were among 13 cargo handlers charged Friday with stealing laptop computers, cameras and other items in mail for U.S. military personnel in Japan from a San Francisco airport facility.
Those arrested from East Palo Alto were Fetongi Mamahi Sanft, 20, Vaea Tangitau Sanft, 19, and Sosaia Toviko Tauelangi, 20.
Items stolen in more than 570 reported incidents since November 2003 included clothing, video game consoles, DVD players, jewelry, merchandise from Victoria's Secret, collector coins and paint-ball guns, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Losses totaled approximately $200,000.
The stolen mail was bound for U.S. military personnel stationed in Okinawa. The mail losses were particularly high during the winter holiday season.
U.S. postal inspectors, with the assistance of U.S. military criminal investigators, conducted surveillance, during which they saw workers concealing merchandise under their clothing and taking it to their vehicles in a nearby lot. They also noticed employees paying extra attention to the customs declarations that state the contents and value of each parcel.
The workers allegedly then retaped the packages and sent them to Okinawa, where the recipients discovered items missing. The suspects were employed by Aeroground, a company that provides cargo staff to numerous airlines at San Francisco International Airport.
''This has never happened in the history of Aeroground,'' Aeroground spokeswoman Jordan Goldstein told the Associated Press. ''Aeroground takes these allegations very seriously, and that's why we're cooperating with the investigation.''
The suspects were arrested Thursday and arraigned Friday in federal court on charges of conspiring to steal and stealing U.S. mail. If convicted, they each face a maximum sentence of five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. All were released on $50,000 bond after they turned in their passports.
Others arrested were: Arthur Chester Orogo Balmes, 24, of Hayward; Leonardo Ugalde Briosos, 51, Rodolfo Ugalde Briosos, 52, and Douglas Quintana Meehleib, 40, all of Daly City; Francis Arnel Ronas Maroto 25, of Sacramento; Rafael Martinez, 24, of San Bruno; Gabriel Jose Navarrette, 19, of Pacifica; Jesus Jose Navarro, 22, of Burlingame; Arnel Tabangcura Salaver, 46, of South San Francisco, and Segundo Bendo Tiongco Jr., 40, of San Francisco.