LAX Traveler Disguised Heroin as Holiday Gifts, Feds Say

Gift-wrapped smack was discovered by LAX security.
Gift-wrapped smack was discovered by LAX security.

Someone in Cincinnati is not getting the kilo of heroin that was on their Christmas list, federal authorities said.

A 25-year-old Pico-Union man was arrested this week after he allegedly tried to get that holiday heroin past security at LAX on Dec. 10, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles. James Mitchell initially got away after his luggage underwent an image scan by Transportation Security Administration officials, feds said.

But authorities said they nabbed him at his home on Wednesday. His luggage actually contained six packages, only one of which has so far been tested for heroin, prosecutors said. So there may be more than a kilo involved, they said. "The packages were wrapped in Christmas-themed paper," according to a U.S. Attorney's Office statement.

The suspect was headed for Ohio, based on a 2-day-old one-way ticket, authorities said. That apparently raised suspicions, but not as much as the smell of Mitchell's luggage, they said. The odor of vinegar set off a hazardous-materials situation, and part of Terminal 3 was shut down during an investigation, U.S. attorney's officials said. Meanwhile, Mitchell slipped away and changed clothing in an attempt to evade the law, feds said.

It turned out that the suspect worked at LAX. "After his arrest, investigators confirmed Mitchell is an employee of Aero Port Services at LAX and has direct access to secure areas of the airport," according to the U.S. Attorney's statement.

Mitchell faces allegations of drug conspiracy and possession of heroin with the intent to distribute. If he's convicted, he could see as many as 40 years behind bars. The DEA Los Angeles International Airport Narcotics Task Force still has the matter under investigation.

"At a time when airlines are carrying loved ones across the country and the world, this defendant jeopardized passenger safety by attempting to use the system to traffic in dangerous drugs," U.S. Attorney for Los Angeles Eileen M. Decker said in a statement. "Interdicting drug shipments is part of the mission to protect our critical infrastructure, and criminals seeking to abuse that infrastructure will be punished."


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