Last updated: 06:44 PM ET, Sun March 01 2015

Report: Did Federal Air Marshals Switch Schedules for Trysts?

Airlines & Airports | Michael Isenbek | March 01, 2015

Report: Did Federal Air Marshals Switch Schedules for Trysts?

Photo courtesy of Air Force Tech. Sgt. Sean M.Worrell

Their job is to protect select U.S. and international commercial flights, but according to documents and interviews, Federal air marshals were secretly removed from their assigned flights to meet for sexual trysts, get better routes, or travel to preferred cities, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting recently reported.

The examination of documents and interviews with current and former employees began as an internal investigation of an ex-lover’s spat featuring allegations of harassment and threats. It ballooned into a criminal investigation focused on the Federal Air Marshal Service dispatch hub in Herndon, Va. Over 60 federal employees are being scrutinized as investigators determine whether flights that risked being hijacked or attacked by terrorists did not have marshals on board, a source keeping tabs on the investigation related to Reveal.

Program specialist Michelle D’Antonio, 48, is the main focus of the investigation. Placed on administrative leave in December 2013 after more than a decade on the job, she was tasked with coordinating delayed, missed or canceled flights and other logistical support, allowing her access to government databases containing sensitive information. But according to current and former employees, she misused this access to look up personnel files, photographs, and flight schedules to target air marshals she might want to meet or even date.

“We cannot address the existence of an investigation,” the TSA, of whom federal air marshals are a part, said in an emailed statement. “However, TSA maintains a rigorous code of conduct for all of our employees, especially law enforcement personnel, and pursues appropriate accountability for violators of ethical standards and the law.”

Sonya Hightower, a retired air marshal based in Orlando, Fla., who is aware of the ongoing internal investigation, had strong words for the situation. “I wouldn’t believe this could occur in a government agency, but it has,” she said.

Hightower asserted it wasn’t a secret that D’Antonio gave preferential treatment by shuffling flight schedules. “I think she put the offer out to quite a few [federal air marshals] and managers, literally acting like a travel agent,” she said. “I think a lot of people were aware she was doing some of these things, but no one wants to comment on it. If everybody’s getting hooked up, nobody’s going to say anything.”

Other times, according to sworn affadavits, D’Antonio has sought out air marshals at hotels or airports unannounced, possibly locating them via unauthorized use of government databases.

The messy breakup of  D’Antonio and veteran air marshal Roy Duron, 45 led to the misconduct coming to light. Social media and textual harassment against Duron and his fiancée (now wife) by D’Antonio and a restraining order marked the nadir of the situation.

The latest in a series of misconduct allegations over the past few years for the TSA, if it is proven by the investigation, this particular scandal is believed to be “a potential nuclear explosion” by K. David Holmes Jr., a former assistant administrator for inspection at TSA.

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