Airports were on the Strip's mind for another reason, too. You see, this porterhouse was pondering the excellent 2006 enjoyed by FirstLine Transportation Security, the company responsible for screening passengers at Kansas City International Airport. How the good times rolled!
In April, the federal government extended FirstLine's contract to guard KCI until 2010.
In July, a union drive fell eight votes short.
Then, in August, a judge in New York decided that FirstLine had not committed fraud when it bid on the job to wand passengers and forage toiletry kits at KCI.
The fraud allegation was part of a legal feud between FirstLine's parent company, SMS Holdings, and Robert Weitzel, who started a company that SMS later absorbed. Weitzel, who retired in 1999, claimed that SMS submitted an imposter bid in 2002 when it locked up a $28-million contract to screen passengers departing from Kansas City.
Holy box cutters! Impersonating a rubber-gloved airport screener seems like serious business!
The alleged identity theft gets pretty technical, but here's a rundown.
Before 9/11, individual airlines were responsible for screening their passengers. The airlines employed contractors to do the work on the cheap. Back then, Federal Aviation Administration inspectors used to slip hand grenades past screeners, who were paid like fast-food workers for performing their supposedly life-saving duties.
One of the private screeners at KCI was International Total Services. Based in Cleveland, ITS screened passengers and did other work, such as cleaning plane cabins, at more than 100 airports. The company also lost money. In fact, on the morning of September 11, 2001, officials from ITS were in midtown Manhattan making arrangements to file for bankruptcy protection.
After the terrorist attacks, the feds took over airport screening but not everywhere. In 2002, the newly created Transportation Security Administration announced a test program: Private contractors would screen passengers at five airports, including KCI.
Meanwhile, ITS was in a state of flux. Even though it was bankrupt, the company continued to operate (with the help of a government advance of $29.5 million). Then, in March 2002, SMS Holdings, a Nashville, Tennessee, company that provided housekeeping and security at shopping malls, paid $1.5 million for a chunk of ITS' aviation business.
Still, the feds invited ITS, in spite of its uncertain status, to bid for the private-screening pilot program. In October 2002, the feds awarded the KCI contract to "ITS of Cleveland."
City officials were unhappy with the feds' decision when it was announced.
"I was livid when that company was picked," recalls Teresa Loar, a former City Council member and chairwoman of the Aviation Committee. Loar and others were concerned not only about their lack of involvement in the process but also about the state of still-bankrupt ITS, which had allowed passengers at other airports to get handguns past screeners.
But had "ITS of Cleveland" really won the job?
Here's where the fraud allegation comes in. A man named John DeMell submitted the bid. He was working jointly for ITS and SMS. In the bid, DeMell identified ITS as a "wholly owned subsidiary" of SMS. The thing is, SMS hadn't acquired ITS' screening services it had bought other airport stuff, such as skycap services. Even though it was liquidating, ITS had held onto its screening work.
Just the same, the KCI contract ended up with SMS the company that had provided floor moppers and guards for the likes of Waldenbooks. In 2003, SMS created the FirstLine subsidiary, which now screens KCI.
The Kansas City contract makes up the basis of a complaint that ITS founder Weitzel made in bankruptcy court last March. Weitzel accuses DeMell of "subterfuge" in emphasizing ITS' airport-screening record in order to land the airport security contract for SMS.
SMS attorney Mike Scheier tells the Strip that DeMell bid for the pilot program on behalf of SMS, after ITS' board declined to submit a proposal. Scheier says DeMell made an error in describing the two companies' legal relationship. The mistake, Scheier says, was only a "superficial cause for concern," because SMS was entitled to ITS' expertise and hired ITS backroom people when the latter company liquidated. Scheier calls Weitzel's fraud allegation "sour grapes."
Bankruptcy Judge Dorothy Eisenberg sided with Scheier, saying she saw no evidence that the government was deceived. A U.S. Attorney's Office in New York looked at the matter and determined that the Transportation Security Administration "was aware at all pertinent times" that it was dealing with SMS.
The Strip couldn't care less about some guy in Cleveland's fuss over his old company. But this steak holder is a little suspicious of the government's assertion that it knew it was dealing with SMS, defenders of the Orange Julius.
According to papers filed by Weitzel's attorneys, the TSA agent who made the assignment believed "clearly" that ITS had received the contract not SMS.
Even today, the government seems confused.
But it probably doesn't matter who's cutting the screeners' paychecks. The Homeland Security Inspector General told Congress in 2004 that private and government screeners were performing "equally poorly." (A Homeland Security spokeswoman says FirstLine is meeting all performance standards.)
So FirstLine will be a part of Kansas City almost as long as the Royals' new, $55 million man, Gil Meche. But not everything went the company's way in 2006.
In July, a Platte County judge upheld a $500,000 damage award to John Pyle, a Northlander who sued FirstLine for discrimination.
Pyle had applied for a job as a screener in 2004. A paraplegic, Pyle uses a wheelchair. In his suit, Pyle claimed that a FirstLine representative assured him that he could perform several screening duties from his chair. Later, the suit says, Pyle was told that he lacked abilities that were essential to the job.
For some reason, FirstLine failed to answer Pyle's suit. So on December 14, 2005, Judge Abe Shafer ruled for Pyle.
A month later, after finally getting its act together, FirstLine asked his honor to set aside the default judgment. But Shafer didn't budge.
This document-chasing cutlet knows what it's like to misplace a stack of papers. But for our leathery hide and yours, the Strip hopes that FirstLine keeps a sharper eye on luggage than it does on lawsuits.
Sit back and enjoy the flight, OK?