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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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