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Queens DA: Bag Handler at JFK Steals $20K from Passenger’s Bag

It seems that no matter where you turn, someone, somewhere is being charged with a theft or larceny crime in New York. Certainly, baggage handlers at New York City’s airports at JFK and LaGuardia are not immune from these arrests. According to District Attorney Richard Brown, the Queens County District Attorney’s Office is prosecuting another alleged case of fraud and theft by airport personnel. Rajendranauth Ramsahai, a baggage cart employee who works at John F. Kennedy International Airport, is accused of stealing some cash from a bag that was left in an airport parking lot. Not just “some cash,” prosecutors claim that there was $20,000 cash inside the computer bag.

Mr. Ramsahai is charged with two crimes. The more serious offense, Third Degree Grand Larceny, is a “D” felony. As such, New York Penal Law 155.35 is punishable by a sentence of up to two and one third to seven years in prison. The lesser crime, the misdemeanor of Petit Larceny, is an “A” misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail. Petit Larceny, New York Penal Law 155.25, as well as Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, are both based in the same language. In substance, if you steal property belonging to another person you are guilty of the lesser offense of NY PL 155.25. This is true regardless of the value. However, in order for prosecutors to prove the felony of NY PL 155.35 beyond a reasonable doubt they must prove this theft as well as the value of the property exceeding $3,000, but not greater than $50,000.

If the allegations are true, the police and prosecutors snagged Ramsahai after video surveillance captured images of the defendant picking up the computer bag, looking through it and ultimately taking property. What was likely the piece of evidence that put this case over the top was that the defendant is claimed to have admitted that he found the bag, looked through it and took $600 which he used for gas, food and other personal things. Whether the defendant in fact made this statement, it is accurate or it was an attempt to minimize the amount of money that was taken is good question. Having been a prosecutor in Manhattan for over seven years, I believe that it is the prosecution’s theory that the defendant was merely trying to minimize his conduct. His minimization, however, is still an admission to a crime.

Although Ramsahai faces up to two and one third to seven years in prison, it is unlikely that he would see such a sense regardless of whether he pleads guilty or is convicted after trial. Coumar Persad and Davon Webb, both TSA Agents who worked at JFK Airport, were sentenced to six months in jail and probation after they admitted to stealing $40,000 in a Grand Larceny theft from a passenger’s luggage. While one case result or sentence does not guarantee the same on a similar case, there is generally some consistency amongst similarly charged individuals from cases that share much in common.

While it is unlikely that the behind the scenes negotiations will be splashed in a press release or in one of the local tabloids, it will be interesting to see what path Ramsahai takes for his defense. Is the best defense mitigation, ie, admitting to the theft and making restitution? If he did steal the entire $20,000, was it because of sever economic issues or an illness in the family? Certainly, none if this is a factual defense, but mitigation may provide a fruitful avenue depending on restitution and a display of who this man truly is beyond the four corners of a felony complaint. Alternatively, how can prosecutors establish there was actually $20,000 in the bag? Are there cash transactions or receipts showing the withdrawals? Not that “why” is an element of the crime, why was $20,000 in cash inside the computer bag? Did anyone else have access to the bag from the time it left the plane until the time it was left in the parking lot? One of the problems with this defense is that assuming the defendant’s statements is admissible (it was legally taken), at a minimum his actions satisfy the elements of Petit Larceny.

To read more about the crimes of Petit Larceny (NY PL 155.25), Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (NY PL 155.35) or any of the Article 155 theft and larceny crimes in New York, review the links found in this blog entry or go to the website and blogs listed below where materials, statutes, legal decisions, etc. are available.

A New York criminal defense practice located in Manhattan, the founding New York criminal defense attorneys at Saland Law PC served as prosecutors in the New York County District Attorney’s Office prior to establishing the law firm. The criminal lawyers at Saland Law represent clients in New York City as well as the surrounding counties and municipalities.

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