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Whistle-blower accusations are not new at Covenant

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S.F. Examiner File Photo
A former Covenant employee said he was "instructed to keep quiet" when attempting to inform superiors about work and security issues.

This is not the first time that employees at San Francisco International Airport have accused Covenant Aviation Security of covering up security breaches or alleged that they were punished for complaining publicly about the company.

In 2005, a Department of Homeland Security report determined that the company had cheated during tests in 2003 and 2004 of its screening system by using surveillance cameras to track undercover testers who carried fake contraband, such as explosives.

According to the report, Covenant tipped off its staff before the testers could reach the gate. The report also found that Covenant failed to report a security breach to the Transportation Security Administration.

The investigation was followed by a wrongful-firing lawsuit filed in San Francisco Superior Court by former Covenant supervisor Gene Bencomo. After repeated complaints about the cheating, Bencomo said he was demoted, assigned to a night shift, labeled unstable and ultimately fired — ostensibly for his role in exposing a corrupt system that helped Covenant maintain its multimillion dollar federal contract. The matter was settled out of court in 2006.

In 2004, two other Covenant employees filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the company. The suit claimed that when inconsistencies with TSA rules were raised, other employees were permitted to attack one of them with false workplace discrimination accusations.

Plaintiff Dennis Balestra claimed in the suit that he was “falsely accused of sexual harassment and race discrimination by disgruntled African-American Covenant employees,” according to court documents. Joseph Gilana, the other plaintiff, said he “attempted to inform his superior of the security equipment malfunctions and breaches” such as a broken exit lane alarm, but was “instructed to keep quiet.” The case never made it to trial.

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