A high-ranking Biden administration official in the Energy Department has been charged with stealing a fellow traveler’s luggage at the Minneapolis airport in September.
Sam Brinton, deputy assistant secretary for spent fuel and waste disposition at the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy, is accused of allegedly taking a Vera Bradley suitcase valued at $2,325 from the luggage carousel at the Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) International Airport, according to a criminal complaint filed on Oct. 27 in Minnesota district court.
Brinton, a resident of Rockville who identifies as nonbinary, had traveled from Washington, D.C. to Minneapolis-St. Paul on Sept. 16, according to the complaint, filed in Hennepin County’s 4th Judicial District Court.
A woman, who had traveled with her son on a Delta Airlines flight from New Orleans on that day alerted law enforcement at the airport that her suitcase, a navy blue, hard-sided Vera Bradley 26-inch roller bag, was missing from the baggage claim area.
The bag had been scanned as arriving at MSP Airport at 4:40 p.m., but was missing from the carousel.
Police obtained video surveillance footage of Carousel 7, where the bag was supposed to be. At 4:45 p.m., a person, later identified as Brinton, was seen removing the bag from the carousel, removing the bag’s tag, and putting the bag tag in the handbag they were carrying before leaving the area “at a quick pace.” The woman confirmed that the suitcase seen in the surveillance video was hers.
Officers later confirmed that Brinton had arrived at the MSP Airport at 4:27 p.m. and confirmed that they hailed a ride-share vehicle to leave the airport, carrying with them the blue bag.
Records from American Airlines confirm that Brinton had not checked a bag when departing from Washington, D.C.
Police later learned that Brinton had stayed at the InterContinental St. Paul Riverfront hotel, and was seen on surveillance footage checking into the hotel with the blue roller bag.
Brinton was then seen on surveillance footage returning to the MSP Airport on Sept. 18 to catch a flight back to D.C. Upon arrival, Brinton checked the blue bag and provided an itemized list of the contents of the bag and its value, estimated at $2,325.
The complaint also claims that Brinton was seen traveling with the bag once more on Oct. 9 at Washington Dulles Airport after returning from a trip to Europe. The owner of the bag was shown a photograph of the bag and confirmed it was hers.
A police officer claimed to have called Brinton on Oct. 9 to discuss the incident, asking them if they took anything that did not belong to them, to which Brinton allegedly responded, “Not that I know of.”
The officer claims Brinton later admitted to taking the bag but denied that clothes for another individual were inside.
Brinton allegedly told the officer, “If I had taken the wrong bag, I am happy to return it, but I don’t have any clothes for another individual. That was my clothes when I opened the bag.”
Two hours later, Brinton called the officer back, and apologized for not being “completely honest.” During that subsequent conversation, Brinton allegedly admitted to taking the blue bag, but claimed to have been tired and took the suitcase thinking it was theirs.
When they opened the bag at the hotel, and realized their error, Brinton allegedly claimed to have been nervous that people would think they stole the bag, and didn’t know what to do.
Brinton reportedly claimed to have left the bag owner’s clothes inside the drawers in the hotel room, and admitted that they checked the bag on their flight back to Washington.
When the officer questioned why Brinton took those actions, Brinton allegedly responded that they did not want to leave the bag in the hotel room, reasoning it was “weirder” to leave a bag than the clothes.
The officer then instructed Brinton on how to return the bag to Delta at the Washington, D.C. Airport to ensure it would be returned to the victim. As of Oct. 27, the bag owner had not received the bag back. The officer also determined from staff at the InterContinental that no clothing had been recovered from the hotel room.
Brinton currently faces a charge of felony theft of a movable property without consent, which could result in a five-year jail sentence, a $10,000 fine, or both, if they are convicted on the charge. They are next scheduled to appear in court on Monday, Dec. 19.
Brinton was placed on leave about a month ago and an interim replacement, Dr. Kim Petry, was named as their replacement, according to the Exchange Monitor, a trade publication focusing on the Energy Department and nuclear issues, which tracks the agency’s hiring decisions and leadership changes.
According to the Exchange Monitor, on Nov. 18, Petry wrote in an email to Department of Energy colleagues that she had been asked by Kathryn Huff, the assistant secretary for nuclear energy, to stay on as head of the office “for the foreseeable future.”
She said she should have another update “in a month or so,” which corresponds roughly to when Brinton’s hearing in Hennepin County District Court is scheduled to take place.
News of the charges against Brinton circulated widely on right-wing media outlets, first being broken by the Minnesota-based Alpha News, before being confirmed by more mainstream outlets.
The Department of Energy has declined to comment on the case.
However, when asked about the charges by Fox News, a Department of Energy spokesperson issued the statement, “Sam Brinton is on leave from DOE, and Dr. Kim Petry is performing the duties of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Spent Fuel and Waste Disposition.”
Brinton made headlines in June when they were first named as deputy assistant secretary for the spent fuel office, becoming one of the U.S. government’s first-ever nonbinary officials.
But Brinton — along with other LGBTQ appointees or officials in the Biden administration, such as Assistant Secretary of Health Admiral Rachel Levine, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg — has also been targeted by right-wing memes on social media bemoaning the presence of out LGBTQ officials in government.
“There’s been a lot of people who are quite upset that don’t think that I am quite as qualified as others,” Brinton told E&E News in an October interview. “I respond with multiple graduate degrees from MIT, a decade of working in nuclear policy and the strongest enthusiasm for working in nuclear waste out of anybody.”
Brinton’s lawyer of record, Minneapolis-based lawyer Fabian Sebastian Hoffner, did not immediately return a request seeking comment.
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