Sam Brinton, a senior Energy Department (DOE) official, was charged with stealing a traveler's luggage in the Minneapolis airport in September, shortly before quietly taking a leave of absence.
Brinton — who serves as the DOE's deputy assistant secretary for spent fuel and waste disposition — allegedly took a Vera Bradley suitcase worth $2,325 from the luggage carousel at the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport (MSP) on Sept. 16, according to a criminal complaint filed on Oct. 26 in Minnesota state court and obtained by Fox News Digital. Brinton had traveled from Washington, D.C., to MSP that day.
After the suitcase's owner alerted police, officers reviewed video surveillance of the carousel and identified Brinton taking the luggage before removing its tag identifying the owner, the court filings stated. Law enforcement observed Brinton using the luggage during at least two other trips to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18 and Oct. 9.
Then, on Oct. 9, Brinton denied stealing anything when a police officer called to discuss the incident. Brinton confirmed still possessing the suitcase.
"If I had taken the wrong bag, I am happy to return it, but I don’t have any clothes for another individual," Brinton told the officer. "That was my clothes when I opened the bag."
Two hours after the phone call, Brinton called the officer back and apologized for not being "completely honest." But Brinton said it was a mistake and blamed being tired for taking the wrong bag at the carousel.
"DEFENDANT said when they opened the bag at the hotel, they realized it was not theirs," the court filings stated. "DEFENDANT got nervous people would think they stole the bag and did not know what to do. DEFENDANT stated they left the clothes from the bag inside the drawers in the hotel room."
Brinton was ultimately charged with felony theft of a movable property without consent, a charge that could result in a five-year sentence, $10,000 fine or both.
Minnesota-based outlet Alpha News first reported the charges against Brinton on Monday.
Brinton was placed on leave about a month ago and another official was named as a replacement in the interim earlier this month, according to the Exchange Monitor which tracks government hires. The DOE originally didn't explain why Brinton took leave at the time.
"Sam Brinton is on leave from DOE, and Dr. Kim Petry is performing the duties of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Spent Fuel and Waste Disposition," a DOE spokesperson told Fox News Digital in a statement.
In June, Brinton made headlines after assuming the position in the DOE's Office of Nuclear Energy as one of the government's first-ever nonbinary officials.
"There’s been a lot of people who are quite upset that don’t think that I am quite as qualified as others," Brinton told E&E News in October. "I respond with multiple graduate degrees from MIT, a decade of working in nuclear policy and the strongest enthusiasm for working in nuclear waste out of anybody."
Brinton's lawyer didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.