PHOENIX – A man who worked at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport was arrested Thursday on suspicion that he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of items from the luggage of passengers in a case that could include hundreds of victims from around the world.
Officers saw Michael Hegstad, 23, take two boxes from a luggage conveyor belt and take out their contents on Aug. 26. He was taken into custody and admitted to repeatedly removing personal belongings from baggage, police Sgt. Steve Martos said Thursday.
It was unclear whether Hegstad yet had a lawyer, and he was in the process of being booked into jail.
Officers have retrieved a large amount of stolen personal items with an estimated value in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and say it will take some time to find all the victims involved and the time frame in which the items were taken.
"There could very well be hundreds of victims from across the country and across the globe," Martos said.
Police plan to itemize all the stolen goods, which include electronics, figure out a timeline of when the items were taken, and set up a hotline next week for potential victims to call.
Police said Hegstad was not employed with Sky Harbor, but was working as a contract employee with Carrollton, Texas-based Elite Line Services and passed a background check before being hired.
A message left at the company was not immediately returned Thursday evening.
Meanwhile, a man accused of stealing up to 1,000 luggage bags from Sky Harbor in an unrelated case has pleaded guilty to five charges stemming from the thefts.
Keith King, 62, pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of burglary, and one count each of theft, drug possession and trafficking stolen property. His sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 1.
King and Stacy Legg King, 39, were arrested in November after a Phoenix police officer said he saw Keith King walk into the airport, take a piece of luggage and leave. Authorities found hundreds of other bags in his home after following him there.
Stacy Legg King was sentenced to 3½ years in prison last month after she pleaded guilty to theft, trafficking in stolen property and a dangerous drug violation.
Martos said the airport thefts should not worry passengers too much.
"We don't feel there's necessarily a concern," he said. "This is a contracted employee who passed a background check. Now he's detained and arrested, so it's not something that necessarily happens on a daily basis."
Airport spokeswoman Deborah Ostreicher said airport security is why Hegstad was caught and that airport officials aren't looking to make any changes, just "the continued use of the tools that we have in order to catch people if they dare to do something like this here."
She said passengers should always keep valuables on their person rather than in checked baggage.