IMAGE: Jonathan Hill
On Jan. 30, Port of Portland police got a call from a Northwest Airlines baggage handler at Portland International Airport.
The caller, Bridgette Bunnell, said a fellow employee was stealing from passengers’ luggage nearly every day. Just yesterday, Bunnell said, he’d nabbed a Nintendo Wii.
Now Bunnell’s tip has boomeranged on her, according to a court document.
The investigation activated by Bunnell’s call has implicated Bunnell herself and fellow baggage handler Jose Trejo Romero in an alleged scheme to steal electronics, designer purses and other high-end items from PDX luggage—while one supervisor looked the other way and took stolen goods as gifts.
Asked why she ratted out her alleged partner, Bunnell allegedly told police that she and Trejo had a system: Bunnell got one of every three items Trejo stole. Police say Bunnell told them that Trejo had gotten “stingy” lately and was holding out on her. So she turned him in.
Trejo, 46, was charged Feb. 17 with first-degree theft. He declined to comment for this story. Bunnell, 43, was arrested Feb. 16 on suspicion of eight counts of first-degree theft by receiving but has not yet been indicted. Despite allegedly confessing to police, she told WW she’s innocent.
“My story will get out when this is all over, because I seriously got screwed,” says Bunnell. “I would never steal anybody’s anything.”
PDX officials had no indication thefts were occurring prior to Bunnell’s call, says Steve Johnson, spokesman for the Port of Portland, which runs the airport. Johnson says Bunnell’s and Trejo’s security badges were suspended pending the outcome of the case, and Bunnell says she’s been on unpaid leave since her arrest.
This story is based on information in a search-warrant affidavit filed March 5 by Detective Sgt. Jason Wallis of the Port police. Wallis got a judge’s permission to search a Northwest Airlines computer that fellow employees said Bunnell used to sell passengers’ stolen property on eBay. Police and the district attorney’s office declined comment on the ongoing investigation.
According to the affidavit, police set up surveillance cameras in the baggage area based on Bunnell’s tip. They allegedly caught Trejo stealing two purses Feb. 14 and arrested him as he was leaving work. He told officers he had a stolen Wii in his trunk and a year’s worth of pilfered goods at his home in Vancouver, the affidavit says.
Police searched the house and found 20 designer handbags including Prada and Louis Vuitton, 15 digital cameras, four video cameras, two Sony PlayStations, two iPods, six laptops, 20 designer watches, jewelry and other merchandise, according to the affidavit. Trejo told police he’d been stealing for at least two years, sharing the spoils with Bunnell, the affidavit says. Police had already grown suspicious of Bunnell during the investigation because she supervised Trejo and worked the same days. An anonymous caller Feb. 16 told police Bunnell was the ringleader and had managed to kill an internal company investigation in 2008, the affidavit says.
Officers went to Bunnell’s house in Molalla. After initially denying the allegations, the affidavit says Bunnell took them through her house room by room and pointed out stolen items, including a Coach handbag, Armani sunglasses, three laptops, a video camera, an electronic Japanese dictionary, four bottles of “enchanted orchid” body lotion, and other items.
Bunnell told police she received one-third of Trejo’s stolen items, noting that bags from international flights often have expensive goods inside, the affidavit says.
Police interviewed Northwest Airlines workers at PDX who said Bunnell was a known thief who got away with it because airline management let her, the affidavit says. Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines bought Northwest last year, and neither company returned WW’s repeated phone calls to their headquarters.
Stacey Welcher, a Northwest baggage handler at PDX, told police she’d seen Bunnell on the supervisors’ computer selling items on eBay that Welcher believed were stolen. “She runs her game and she gets what she wants,” Welcher told police.
Yorlanda Davis, another Northwest employee, told police she’d seen Bunnell logged on eBay at the supervisors’ computer with stolen laptops sitting beside. Davis said employees had complained but no action was taken because Bunnell was like a “queen bee,” and male employees and managers did her bidding.
Bob Spicer, Bunnell and Trejo’s supervisor, told police he wasn’t surprised Bunnell had been arrested. He said he’d heard rumors she was stealing purses, but he hadn’t seen anything himself because his view of their work area was blocked by equipment.
Spicer told police he had given Bunnell his password for the computer, and that Bunnell sold a lot of purses on eBay. Asked if he saw a connection with Bunnell’s rumored theft of purses, Spicer “shrugged his shoulders,” the affidavit says.
Asked if he’d received any stolen property, Spicer told police he had a DVD for his favorite show, The Office, that Trejo had first given to someone else. Spicer said he’d also received cigarettes.
“Everyone knows that Marlboro is my brand,” Spicer is quoted as saying in the affidavit. “Sometimes people leave cigarettes for me, and I don’t know where they come from.”
Johnson, the Port spokesman, says police interviewed everyone who may have been involved in the scheme and felt no additional charges were warranted. Spicer agreed to surrender his DVD, the affidavit says.
FACT: The Port of Portland is reuniting 11 passengers with their stolen property after the agency put out a news release about the alleged theft ring Feb. 20. If you think you had items stolen, call 460-4747.