New York NY September 15, 2023
A former Delta Airlines worker and his crony accused of stealing a bag containing more than $258,000 from JFK Airport “made a tremendous mistake” — leaving receipts behind in their getaway car that led to their arrests, prosecutors said as their trial kicked off Wednesday.
The FBI found the car with the incriminating receipts five days after the Sept. 24, 2019, heist and arrested then-Delta ground services worker Quincy Thorpe and his pal Emanuel Asuquo Okon, who are now on trial in Brooklyn federal court for the theft of the Miami-bound cash — which has not been recovered.
“The money was gone but the defendants had made a tremendous mistake,” prosecutor John Vagelatos said during opening statements Wednesday.
“They had left behind hard evidence of the crime.”
Valegatos described Thorpe, of Brooklyn, as the “inside man” in the scheme, since he worked on the secure side of the busy international airport and was responsible for loading the eight bags of US and foreign cash that came off a cruise ship onto Delta Flight 1225.
But Thorpe swiped one of the bags, drove it in a trailer to a remote airport parking lot with no buildings or cameras around and transferred it to a white van, the prosecutor alleged.
The airline worker and another person drove that white van to meet Okon on the public side of the airport and handed him the money, Vagelatos said.
Okon then drove his pal back to the airport to finish his shift to avoid raising suspicion, the prosecutor said.
Thorpe “was away from his workplace — Terminal 2 of the airport — with a bag of stolen money,” Vagelatos noted.
Thorpe’s lawyer Lonnie Hart Jr. told jurors his client was a “scapegoat.”
The FBI found Okon’s car five days later and “In the backseat of the car behind the driver’s seat were receipts from the armored car company and Delta cargo tags for the shipment for eight bags to Miami,” Vagelatos told the jury.
The feds tracked down and arrested Thorpe two days later and Okon was nabbed six days after.
They are each charged with one count of conspiracy to steal cargo and one count of stolen cargo, and each faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Thorpe’s lawyer, Lonnie Hart Jr., painted his client as a patsy and said that someone had “to pay for” the blunder after the “embarrassment” suffered by Delta and the security and handling company Loomis — which was tasked with protecting the cash.
“Someone has to pay for it and the convenient person in this case is my client, Quincy Thorpe, because he was, in fact, in charge of loading that particular flight,” Hart said in his opening statements.
“He’s a scapegoat for someone else’s incompetence.”
Hart claimed that the man who drove Thorpe to meet Okon in the white van, Jeremy Hollingsworth, is “more actually the actual perpetrator in this case.”
Hollingsworth is not a defendant but is expected to be a witness at trial.
“The reality is the government has no idea whether this bag was taken in New York or Miami or who took it,” Hart said. “Four years later, the money has still never been recovered.”
Okon’s lawyer, Douglas Rankin, argued the case was weak with no recovered cash and no evidence of a money trail.
Five witnesses were called later Wednesday including three Delta Airlines workers — one of whom was one of three people loading the plane the day of the theft; another, a station manager who was called to the plane in Miami after the eighth bag was discovered missing; and the third, a director of operations who explained how the company tracks which employees scan cargo.
Jurors also heard from a Port Authority officer who saw on surveillance footage the vehicles used to get the bag out of JFK and a Loomis Armored Truck guard who transported the bags to the Queens airport before they were swiped.
The trial is expected to last at least until the end of the week.