"They all knew about each other, although they weren't working in concert," Maltez said. "We're looking at people who are opportunists, who have taken opportunities to steal."
The thieves were also selling items on multiple sites, including Craigslist.
Detectives were still working to determine how much had been recovered, but many expensive items, including a $15,000 camera, were seized during the raids. The camera belonged to a photographer who was on his way to Africa and reported it stolen in San Francisco. "But truly, it was stolen in LAX," Maltez said.
The thieves targeted bags that were traveling longer distances or had multiple transfers. Long-haul passengers, especially, often don't see their bags for many hours and through multiple airports if they're transferring.
"What happens is if they steal it here at LAX, by the time you get home you don't know where these things were stolen," Maltez said. "They know who to target."
The suspects had undergone employment and criminal-background checks before they were authorized to work at the airport. But those checks are limited, and all the employees had minimal or non-existent arrest records, Maltez said.
Most of the police activity was at the Tom Bradley International Terminal and at Terminal 4, which handles American Airlines, American Eagle and some Qantas flights.
Every year about 55 million pieces of luggage are checked at LAX, which served nearly 67 million passengers last year.
Maltez said that while the airport is relatively safe, and theft isn't rampant, "my advice to travelers is to be careful what you pack in your bags."
Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams