Trial starts for two men in $250K money bag heist from JFK Airport

Two former Delta Airlines workers are on trial for stealing a bag of more than $250,000 cash before it was loaded onto a plane at JFK Airport, but the men’s lawyers contend that they’re just scapegoats.

Qunicy Thorpe was working as an aircraft loading agent for Delta on Sept. 24, 2019, and tasked with putting eight big bags of cash on a plane to Miami, according to federal prosecutors.

Except when the plane touched down in Florida, the airline staff only found seven bags in the cargo hold.

Federal prosecutors allege that he and a pal, Emmanuel Asuquo Okon — at the time a former Delta worker — conspired to steal the cash, and video shows Thorpe and Okon meeting up in an airport parking lot to make the exchange.

The money, which had been brought to JFK by an armored car company, has never been found. But the duo made “a tremendous mistake,” Assistant U.S. Attorney John Vagelatos told jurors in Brooklyn Federal Court Wednesday. “They had left behind hard evidence of the crime.”

When the FBI searched Okon’s car, they found a manila envelope with some incriminating papers — receipts from Loomis, the armored car company that transported the cash, and a Delta waybill that read “piece 8 of 8.”

Thorpe and Okon face charges of conspiracy to steal cargo and cargo theft, and the possibility of 10 years behind bars.

Their lawyers contend that Loomis and Delta were so embarrassed by the theft of the money that they made the duo “scapegoats,” and none of the video from that day shows the theft or an actual exchange of cash.

“This is not a ‘what happened,'” said Okon’s lawyer, Douglas Rankin. “Money got stolen. Whether it was Miami, whether it was New York, money got stolen…. A quarter of a million dollars, somebody gets arrested and prosecuted, and it’s not always the right somebody.”

He added, “It is undisputed that there is not a video of [Thorpe] stealing the money,” Rankin said. “The most surveilled airport in the world, no video.”

Thorpe, who was a longtime Delta employee, was responsible for scanning and loading eight bags of cash from a Loomis armored vehicle onto a plane headed to Miami on Sept. 24, 2019. He used a scanning device linked to his ID to load seven of the bags, and video footage tells the rest of the story, prosecutors allege.

According to court filings, Thorpe can be seen driving a luggage trailer attached to a “tug” vehicle to an underground entrance at Terminal 2 and leaving it there. The trailer’s curtain was closed.

Thorpe is then seen using a cell phone, and when a Delta van pulled up to the entrance, Thorpe walked over and chatted with the driver through the passenger-side vehicle, according to prosecutors. He then got back into the tug and accompanied the van to a remote part of the airport, where they stopped for less than a minute.

They headed back to the underground entrance together, only this time the curtain was open and the trailer appeared empty, the court papers said.

Thorpe got into the van, and the driver took him to an airport parking lot. Not long after they got to the lot, a blue Nissan Sentra owned by Okon’s domestic partner — who was out of the country at the time — pulled up behind him.

The van and the Sentra left the lot together, and the Sentra left the airport. When the FBI searched the Sentra five days later, an agent found the manila envelope.

Thorpe’s lawyer, Lonnie Hart Jr., and Oken’s attorney both suggested that the Delta van driver, who’s expected to take the stand for the government, was involved with the theft.

On Wednesday, several Delta and Loomis employees took the stand, describing how the bags of cash were handled before Thorpe had custody of them and after. The trial will continue Thursday.