A United Airlines customer service agent and his wife have been charged with theft and commercial burglary for allegedly stealing luggage at San Francisco International Airport in the disarray following the crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214.
Sean Sharif Crudup, 44, and Raychas Elizabeth Thomas, 32, both of Richmond, California, are out on bail.
Crudup has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Thomas is scheduled to be arraigned August 26 and has yet to file a plea. If convicted, each could receive a maximum sentence of four years and four months in state prison.
"On July 8 our victims were flying home to SFO from the Cayman Islands," said San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe. "Their luggage, several pieces, which contained an extensive amount, US$30,000 (NZ$37,420) of clothing... went on an earlier plane and landed at SFO before the crash."
But the victims' plane was diverted, Wagstaffe said in an interview, first to Houston and finally to Los Angeles, where they rented a car to drive north.
But when they arrived at the luggage area at SFO, their baggage was nowhere to be found. The prosecutor did not identify the victims.
Surveillance video allegedly showed Crudup going into an airport baggage office, taking a piece of luggage, bringing it out and handing it to Thomas.
He then returned to the office, collected another bag and handed it to a second woman, not yet identified, Wagstaffe said. The group later left the airport.
"Ms. Thomas had taken a bunch of the clothing to Nordstrom to sell it back," Wagstaffe said. "A search warrant was issued for their home in Richmond, and a large number of the items were found there."
Wagstaffe said it is still unclear whether such theft was an ongoing practice or whether "it was an isolated incident, taking advantage of the hectic world of SFO that day."
The Asiana crash July 6 killed three young Chinese students and injured nearly 200 passengers and crew members.
It also wrought havoc on airline operations in the San Francisco Bay Area for several days, cancelling outgoing flights and causing a large number of incoming flights to be diverted.
Crudup and Thomas were arrested at the San Francisco airport where the thefts allegedly occurred. They were heading to Hawaii on July 25 - Crudup's birthday, three days before Thomas'.
"Whether we'll have future charges (against the couple), law enforcement will let us know," Wagstaffe said.
Either way, "Thievery when no one's around, I find it deplorable, especially if they're taking advantage of a case like this... I find it a serious breach of trust."