Airport passenger screener charged in distributing child pornography

TSA officer Thomas Gordon Jr. is being held. (Image: Government Employees (AFGE) union website)
TSA officer Thomas Gordon Jr. is being held. (Image: Government Employees (AFGE) union website)
Posted: April 23, 2011

A passenger screener at Philadelphia International Airport is facing charges that he distributed more than 100 images of child pornography via Facebook, records show.

Federal agents also allege that Transportation Safety Administration Officer Thomas Gordon Jr. of Philadelphia, who routinely searched airline passengers, uploaded explicit pictures of young girls to an Internet site on which he also posted a photograph of himself in his TSA uniform.

Homeland Security agents arrested the TSA officer March 24, and he is being held without bail.

Although the case was unsealed Thursday, neither the indictment nor the news release mentioned Gordon's job searching airline passengers for TSA.

The arrest comes as TSA grapples with several other incidents involving screeners, including a YouTube video posted last week by parents angry about the pat-down their 6-year-old daughter received at an airport in New Orleans. TSA officials said the pat-down was proper; the parents said the girl was "groped."

Citing privacy rules, TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis would not say if Gordon has been suspended from his job, but noted that he had been in federal custody since his arrest.

"We can assure the public that he is no longer working at the airport," Davis said.

Gordon began working as a TSA screener at the Philadelphia airport in December 2005, Davis said. The airport has 900 screeners, she said.

If convicted of the child pornography charges, Gordon, 46, faces a minimum mandatory sentence of five years. The maximum prison term is 250 years and the top fine is $3.2 million.

Gordon is paid $37,000 annually as a TSA screener, records show. He has no prior criminal record, officials said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Levy, chief of his office's child exploitation unit, declined to comment Friday.

Gordon's lawyer, Elizabeth Toplin, an assistant federal public defender, could not be reached for comment via e-mail or phone late Friday.

Tipped by the Delaware County District Attorney's Office, federal agents began investigating Gordon on March 10, according to an affidavit from a Homeland Security Investigations agent.

The tip allegedly included evidence that Gordon had uploaded five explicit photographs of young girls onto the web site Photobucket.

The federal agent alleged that Gordon's Photobucket account also included a picture of him wearing his blue TSA uniform.

The indictment alleges that Gordon used at least six Facebook accounts and employed multiple names "to upload and store images of sexual exploitation of minor children."

The charges detail 104 illicit photographs allegedly uploaded over four weeks in February.

Authorities also seized from Gordon an HP laptop and a four-gigabyte flash drive that they say contained more than 600 images or movies containing child pornography, according to court filings.

Gordon's job as a TSA screener was in jeopardy last year for unrelated reasons, according to an online newsletter of the American Federation of Government Employees.

Citing a family issue, it said Gordon was having "difficulty maintaining his work schedule." The union lawyer helped convince TSA officials that a change in shift schedule resolved the problem, the newsletter said, and Gordon returned to work.


Contact staff writer John Shiffman at 301-320-6655 or jshiffman@phillynews.com.

 

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