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"Baggage handler who authorities say stole guns passed airportbackground checks"

Friday, March 3, 2017

Baggage handler who authorities say stole guns passed airport checks 
By Mark Wilson
The Austin (TX) American-Statesman

The Austin airport baggage handler who the FBI and Austin police say stole 
handguns from bags to trade for pot had passed a background check, police said 

The employee, 25-year-old Austin resident Ja'Quan Johnson, has been fired from 
his contract job at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Lt. Joe Robles said.

Authorities believe Johnson stole seven handguns from checked bags at the 
airport from Nov. 29, 2016, through Feb. 2. Many of those handguns were traded 
for marijuana, authorities said.

Investigators said they tied Johnson to the thefts through record checks, 
airport bag tracking, employee schedules and surveillance.

Police have recovered five of the seven weapons stolen from the airport. The 
investigation also turned up two more handguns identified as stolen from 
elsewhere, Robles said.

Johnson has been charged with theft from an interstate shipment and possession 
of stolen firearms. He turned himself in on Wednesday and was released on a 
personal recognizance bond, according to the U.S. attorney's office. He could 
face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

On Feb. 3, Austin police searched Johnson's home on Parkfield Drive in North 
Austin. As a result, they arrested his roommate, 21-year-old Matthew Bartlett, 
and charged him with felony possession of marijuana.

At the time, police interviewed Johnson and he confessed to stealing the 
weapons from airport baggage, police said. He was fired from his baggage 
handling job almost immediately, Robles said.

Interviews with Johnson led Austin police to Catronn Hewitt, 36, who was also 
arrested and charged with felony possession of marijuana.

Robles said it was unclear how many bags Johnson went through during the 
months-long stretch of thefts. In one instance, Robles said, Johnson also took 
a pair of binoculars from a suitcase that had a gun inside, but no other stolen 
property has been tied to him.

Airport spokesman Jim Halbrook said anyone who has access to secure areas of 
the airport is subject to the same federally mandated background checks, and 
Johnson was no exception.

A check of Texas Department of Public Safety records indicated no criminal 
history for Johnson, Bartlett or Hewitt in the state.
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