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JFK workers arrested in booze graft

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Three employees of a catering service at Kennedy Airport were arrested last Thursday for allegedly stealing $1.5 million worth of untaxed miniature liquor bottles from several airlines and reselling them to delis and grocery stores, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

Sky Chef employees Jarmel Flowers, 22, of 78-21 88th Ave. in Jamaica, Eddie Cherestal, 28, of 524 Lincoln Ave. in Brooklyn and Erwin Leonardo, 31, of 134-11 116th Ave. in South Ozone Park were arrested and charged with grand larceny and/or criminal possession of stolen property, Brown said. They face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

“It is alleged that over the past 16 months the three Sky Chef employees stole hundreds of cases of liquor bottles in individual portions for in-flight consumption by passengers from the Sky Chef facility at JFK,” Brown said.

According to investigators from the DA’s Airport Investigations Unit and the Port Authority Police Department, Cherestal and Flowers allegedly removed the liquor from the Sky Chef Bonded Room at JFK, where they worked. They then allegedly transported the stolen goods to the South Ozone Park home of Leonardo, a Sky Chef warehouse equipment driver.

Each case of liquor is valued at $768 and contains 192 individual bottles. It is alleged that the liquor was sold to delis and grocery stores in Queens for $100 a case. The liquor was then allegedly sold to the public for $2 to $3 per bottle, Brown said.

“Employee pilferage is a significant problem for many companies —- not just at the airports but throughout the metropolitan area,” Brown said. “Pilferage of this magnitude, however, is rare in our experience.”

Brown said the defendants were able to operate successfully because two of them were in charge of the facility where the liquor was ordered and stored and were able to conceal the alleged thefts by changing the records of liquor purchase and disbursement.

When Port Authority investigators executed a search warrant at Leonardo’s home, they found 169 cases of stolen liquor, including 144 cases of Dewars Scotch, 22 cases of Courvoisier Cognac and three cases of Bailey’s Liqueur valued at more than $135,0000, Brown said. They also found 33 boxes of plates, glasses and packets of coffee, according to the district attorney.

Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 138.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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