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Financial Crimes

Former O'Hare Airport worker sentenced to 2 years in prison

CHICAGO - A former ground services coordinator at O'Hare International Airport here has been sentenced to two years in prison for using his position at the airport to help smuggle $396,000 in cash and illegally export weapons scopes, military night-vision goggles, and a cellular phone "jammer." This sentenced resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Riad Skaff, 69, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Lebanon, was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by Judge Joan Gottschall. Skaff was also ordered to pay a $100 special assessment.

On Aug. 17, 2007, Skaff voluntarily pleaded guilty to all nine counts of an indictment charging him with bulk cash smuggling; entering an aircraft and airport area in violation of applicable security requirements with the intent to commit a felony; exporting and attempted export of defense articles without first obtaining a required export license from the State Department; and attempted international export of merchandise, articles, and objects contrary to U.S. law.

"Illegally exporting controlled U.S. technology is tantamount to breaching the border," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Chicago. "We will aggressively investigate anyone who presents a threat to our national security."

According to court documents, Skaff had been employed by Sunline Services Inc. as a subcontractor assigned to Air France since February 1999 at O'Hare. Skaff worked as a ground services coordinator and possessed an active airport security badge granting him full access to all secure areas of Terminal 5 of the airport, including the jetways and tarmac, without being subject to security and screening.

In October 2005, Skaff told an undercover ICE agent that he would be able to get $25,000 in cash aboard a flight from Chicago to Paris without being subject to inspection, stating that, "I am in charge of the plane, everything." Skaff went on to explain to the agent that he was undertaking a large risk, stating "it is dangerous; if they catch me, they take me to jail."

According to court documents, Skaff later smuggled $25,000 in cash past airport security so the undercover agent could take it aboard an Air France flight to Paris without declaring the export of $10,000 or more in currency, as required by law. The undercover agent told Skaff he was taking the cash to Lebanon to open a business.

Court documents also indicate that in December 2005, Skaff accepted $6,000 from the undercover agent to circumvent airport security to help smuggle $100,000 in cash, along with a military-grade cellular phone jammer, aboard an Air France flight to Paris. In November 2006, Skaff accepted $15,000 from the undercover agent to route $271,000 in cash past airport security so it could be smuggled aboard an Air France flight to Paris.

In January 2007, Skaff accepted $5,000 from the undercover agent to bring a bag containing four night-vision rifle scopes and two military night-vision goggles past airport security to be smuggled aboard an Air France flight to Paris. Shortly afterwards, Skaff was arrested by ICE agents at O'Hare.

ICE was assisted in this investigation by the following agencies: the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the Transportation Security Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Chicago Police Department's Counter Terrorism Section. Assistant U.S. Attorney Charles E. Ex, Northern District of Illinois prosecuted this case.