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FBI says ELP workers cheated airline

Daniel Borunda

El Paso Times

Some Southwest Airlines employees in El Paso allegedly defrauded the company out of $1.1 million in a seven-year ticket scam under investigation by the FBI.

A minimum of eight employees, most of whom worked at the El Paso International Airport ticket counter, were allegedly involved in the fraud, the FBI said Tuesday.

"They found a loophole to re-use prior ticket sales and keep the cash," said special agent Art Werge, an FBI spokesman.

The alleged fraud was done through different methods, Werge said.

In one method, a ticket counter worker would save an old ticket that should have been marked void or used, the FBI explained. The unmarked ticket would then be sold to a cash-paying customer. The employee would pocket the money, and the customer would use the ticket.

"The customer was not victimized. Southwest Airlines is the victim here," Werge said. The FBI said it believes the alleged fraud began in 1996.

Some of the employees were reportedly working in a ring while others were allegedly stealing individually.

The FBI began an investigation a few months ago. The company is cooperating in the investigation. The employees have been fired and could face theft of interstate shipment and other federal charges. No arrests or indictments have been made yet, Werge said.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call the FBI at 832-5000.

Daniel Borunda may be reached at dborunda@elpasotimes.com

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