A behind-the-scenes worker at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is accused of stealing nearly $85,000 in valuables from checked luggage, including guns.

David Vang, 23, of St. Paul, was charged by summons in Hennepin County District Court with 11 counts of felony theft in losses last summer and fall at Terminal 1, also known as the Lindbergh terminal.

“Such thefts are rare, but they do occur,” airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said Thursday. “Nearly 20,000 people work at MSP International Airport, and while most are honest, law-abiding citizens, there are likely to be a few in such a large group who aren’t as trustworthy.”

Precaution advice

Hogan added that the best way for travelers to protect themselves is to “pack valuables in their carry-on luggage, rather than their checked luggage, whenever possible.”

Along with 10 firearms retrieved from Vang’s living room closet, authorities say they uncovered more than 700 other items he stole, including iPads, laptop computers, projectors, cellphones, cameras, purses, watches, knives, jewelry and hunting and fishing gear.

Vang was employed at the time by the Dallas area’s Elite Line Services to maintain baggage conveyance systems.

Airport police were led to the thefts after a Delta Air Lines traveler reported that his bow and electronic items were missing from his luggage when he arrived in Alaska from Minneapolis, according to the criminal complaint.

All of the victims were believed to be passengers making flight connections, because “the items had been electronically scanned into checked luggage inventory by [MSP] airline employees but were not among the items scanned as having been loaded onto the aircraft,” Hogan said.

“One of the challenges is that travelers will often report missing items only to their airline or only to law enforcement officials at the airport where they originally checked the bag,” Hogan added, “not at their destination airport or at the airport where they caught a connecting flight.

“Many times thefts aren’t reported to us at all, and when they are, it can be difficult to determine where along the traveler’s route the crime occurred.”

Cameras aid in case

Police had two hidden cameras installed in the area where they believed the thefts were occurring. Surveillance footage showed Vang taking items from luggage and hiding them nearby until his shift ended, the complaint added.

The surveillance also showed Vang taking the items to an employee parking ramp, where he put them in a vehicle driven by his wife, Vue Xiong, according to the charges. Xiong, 21, was charged with one count of felony theft.

Under questioning by police, Vang admitted to the theft, the complaint read. Authorities put the value of the items at $84,379.

The defendants, who were charged by summons, could not immediately be reached for comment. Vang’s first court appearance is set for April 18, Xiong’s on April 25.

Vang had a security badge issued by police, Hogan said. Since Vang worked in a secure area, he “had gone through all the federal background checks, and no disqualifying crimes were identified on his record,” Hogan added.

Hogan did not know whether his employer ran Van through a similar security process. A supervisor at the company’s Twin Cities facility declined to comment on the case.