Car Dealer Rick Case Is Pressing Charges Against a TSA Officer Over a $450 Pen

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His mother has already moved to Florida. Puddie's first ride on an airplane, when he is 9, takes him to live there. He eats curry chicken for dinner on the Air Jamaica evening flight, and before landing, he marvels at South Florida's expanse of lights.

This is Toussain Puddie, all grown up: He loves travel, likes wearing a uniform. He thinks about making it back to an airport as a ticket-counter agent. He interviews for a flight-attendant job at Continental's hub in Houston but realizes he's not the type of man who becomes a flight attendant. He works as a concierge at the Tides condominiums. Another job, for a telecommunications company, has him driving solo routes through Florida and Georgia, as far away as Charleston, South Carolina, always circling back to his family and his friends.

He takes the TSA job in April 2009. A decade earlier, this job would have been done by a private-sector employee of a firm like Wackenhut or Argenbright. He would not have received as much training, and he would not have known as much federally protected information. He would not have had undercover federal agents try to sneak dangerous items through the security line every once in a while, just to keep him on his toes.

But post 9/11, he has a very important job, with a standard-issue blue uniform and a chrome-faced badge. He works all positions, based on what's needed day-to-day. His favorites are watching the baggage x-ray monitor and conducting bag checks. He thinks he's good at the checks and efficient. He removes the suspicious sections from bags, runs them back through the machine, sorts out the items. He's puzzled and amused by the people who bring little Ziploc bags of sand back home from Florida. He makes about $12,000 a year with good benefits, working 20 hours a week part-time, like many of his fellow TSA officers.

He makes conversation with passengers so that they feel more at ease. During football season, he asks the passengers wearing jerseys about the score. When he sits at the podium and shines a little ultraviolet light on passports and driver's licenses, people sometimes ask him if he ever smiles. Then he smiles, which he does a lot, actually, and thinks, "Man, that's not me at all."

This is Toussain Puddie as an accused felon: He looks meaner in his mug shot than he does in person, broader, with an unshorn beard and v-neck jail scrubs. Thirty years old and six feet tall, he is "the defendant who is employed by the Transportation Security Administration in the capacity of a screener."

At Aventura Mall, ten minutes in traffic from the house with painted-on shutters where Puddie grew up, a well-suited clerk with silvered hair pulls a pen out of a glass case. Wearing gloves, he rests it in a box lined with velvet.

This isn't The Pen that Rick Case got in Europe, but it's the same model, introduced in 2007 and put together by hand at the Montblanc factory in the suburbs of Hamburg: the Starwalker Metal Rubber, Model No. 08857. It's heavy in the palm, balancing out across the fingers. The surface is hard and rubberized for grip, appearing graphite-gray in some lights and black in others. It's divided by intersecting lines of inset chrome. The barrel bulges out like a bullet point where the fingers grasp it; the silver clip curves assertively.

At the top of the pen is a clear polycarbonate dome, with a six-peaked star — the Montblanc logo, representing the namesake mountain's six glaciers — floating inside, suspended. Inside the pen's tightly threaded casing is a disposable ballpoint ink barrel, braced by a spring. Fountain-tip models are available, but this one, like Case's, is a standard twist-out.

Case's daughter told authorities that the pen was worth $450. Later, on the phone with police, Case recalled that he had bought it in Europe, where it cost about 300 euros. Ira Magsil, the loss prevention manager for Montblanc North America, said in a sworn statement that the pen's retail value is $470 and would only go up over the years.

So this is the item that rolled around in the bottom of a plastic tub for a few minutes on June 5, before supervisor Silvano Leger found it and handed it to lead officer Theo Vaca so he could announce its presence over the public-address system. Vaca made the announcement, which Case evidently did not hear down by the gate, and put the pen back into a plastic bowl for lost items.

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Stefan Kamph
Contact: Stefan Kamph