Last month a flight attendant allegedly ran away from 30 kilos of cocaine as she faced a surprise inspection at LAX.
Sounds random, but it looks like cocaine is no stranger to our international airport. There's an anti-narcotics task force working the facilities, and it's coming up with cases.
This week the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles announced that two former baggage handlers at LAX were arrested Monday for allegedly conspiring to distribute — you guessed it — cocaine.
Adrian Ponce, 27, and Alberto Preciado Gutierrez, 26, both of South Gate, were collared by U.S. Drug Enforcement agents, LAX cops and Los Angeles police, federal prosecutors announced.
Preciado was an LAX baggage supervisor for cargo company Swissport International, feds say. They allege he had a kilo of coke on him when he was arrested. Ponce was a baggage handler for a company acquired by Swissport, authorities said.
"Two former baggage handlers who worked at Los Angeles International Airport were arrested today by law enforcement authorities investigating the use of employee credentials to breach airport security," the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a statement. "The two defendants are charged in a federal criminal complaint with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute cocaine."
An LAX police detective working on the drug task force alleged that the two "were engaged in a nationwide conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute cocaine."
Authorities say the duo "facilitated" couriers who smuggled 1-kilogram "samples" of cocaine from L.A. to the East Coast.
"These defendants are charged with abusing their privileged access on behalf of drug dealers," said Eileen M. Decker, the U.S. Attorney in L.A. "This case is yet another example of employees associated with airports assisting drug traffickers."
Feds say Preciado had a kilo of cocaine on him on Dec. 16, when authorities confronted him in a bathroom at LAX's Terminal 3. He was about to deliver it to a "courier," they alleged, who was headed to New York.
The suspect soon was fired from his job, prosecutors said.
Ponce, interviewed the next day, admitted that he and Preciado helped couriers get drugs through LAX multiple times, feds alleged.
"In another statement given to law enforcement officials in January, Ponce allegedly admitted working with a large-scale drug supplier, and he explained how couriers with travel documents would pass through normal airport security, and would be provided with kilogram quantities of cocaine by Preciado, who had used his employee credentials to bypass security screening," the U.S. Attorney's statement says.
The drug samples could lead to 100-kilo shipments that Ponce would drive across the country in trucks, feds said.
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The duo faces 10 years to life in federal prison, prosecutors said.
LAX police Chief Patrick Gannon said that the number of access points for airport workers like these two will be reduced and that random inspections for employees will be increased.
"This investigation, led by Airport Police detectives, DEA investigators and other law enforcement partners, demonstrates we will identify those who try to circumvent security for criminal purposes at LAX, and they will be arrested and held responsible for their actions," Gannon said.
"Every employee should expect they could be stopped and inspected at any time and any place while at the airport," he warned.