By Lukas I. Alpert
These guys now have a lot of baggage, authorities say.
A pair of frequent flyers from Louisiana have been charged with stealing more than $500,000 from airlines by filing dozens of phony lost-luggage claims, prosecutors said.
Pernell Anthony Jones Jr., 31, of Kenner, La., and Donmonick Martin, 29, of Chalmette, La., are accused of running the scam on numerous airlines, filing lost-luggage claims following 180 flights in and out of Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans, despite never actually traveling with checked bags, according to court documents.
Prosecutors say that, starting in 2015, Jones would buy tickets for the flights online using false identities and preloaded gift cards. He would then present fake identification at the airport and collect a baggage-claim ticket after paying the checked-bag fee, yet wouldn’t actually check a bag through.
Upon landing, prosecutors say, Jones would tell the airline it had lost his luggage and file a claim stating the bag contained valuable items worth more than $3,500, the maximum compensation allowed under law. He would put Martin’s address on the claim, according to court documents.
When the bag wouldn’t turn up after a month, the airlines would pay out the $3,500, sending a check to Martin’s home in Chalmette, prosecutors said. In all, the airlines — which included American Airlines /zigman2/quotes/209207041/composite AAL +1.90% , United Airlines /zigman2/quotes/205037281/composite UAL +1.68% , Jet Blue /zigman2/quotes/207639051/composite JBLU -0.27% , Southwest Airlines /zigman2/quotes/201071949/composite LUV -1.64% and Alaska Airlines /zigman2/quotes/200972303/composite ALK -1.83% — paid $550,000 to Jones and Martin, prosecutors said.
Jones and Martin are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Jones faces up to 20 years and Martin up to five years if convicted.
Jones and Martin couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, and it wasn’t immediately clear whether they had retained attorneys. Martin’s first appearance in court was scheduled for Oct. 6, and Jones’s was set for Oct. 13.
A spokesman for American Airlines said, “We’re pleased the Department of Justice is pursuing this matter.” A representative for Southwest had no comment, and messages sent to the other airlines weren’t immediately returned.
In 2020, airlines lost just 0.04% of the nearly 209 million bags they handled in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Most of those bags were eventually recovered and returned to their owners, with just 5% of those that were reported missing never being found.