Former LAX Baggage Handlers Charged in Cocaine Trafficking Ring
Two former baggage handlers of Los Angeles International Airport were arraigned in court on charges of allegedly smuggling cocaine through airport security when they were employees there.
According to FOX News, investigators allege that the two ex-employees, Adrian Ponce and Alberto Preciado Gutierrez, used their positions to smuggle cocaine to couriers, who distributed the cocaine to customers in the East Coast. If the customers liked the product, Ponce would drive to the East Coast to deliver shipments of “more than 220 pounds of cocaine.”
Details of the LAX Cocaine Trafficking Arrest
This case against former airport employees follows the March arrest of an off-duty Jet Blue flight attendant , Marsha Gay Reynolds, who allegedly tried to sneak 70 pounds of cocaine through LAX. She promptly fled the airport when she was chosen for a random search, only to surrender herself later to federal authorities. Reynolds was charged on the same day as the former baggage handlers. However, with her bail request having been overturned, she is now awaiting trial in a jail cell.
In December, last year, a joint investigation involving the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and local law enforcement helped to nab Gutierrez, who worked as a duty manager for Swissport International at the time. FOX News and KTLA 5 News report that Gutierrez was caught with 2 pounds of cocaine in an airport restroom, where he was suspected of trying to pass the drugs to a courier who was travelling to New York on a Jet Blue flight. Ponce – who was waiting for Gutierrez in a car outside the airport’s Terminal 3 – was also arrested.
On Monday, Ponce and Gutierrez appeared in federal court where they were charged with “conspiracy to possess and with intent to distribute cocaine.” Investigators say that this case and Ms. Reynolds case are unrelated.
In a press release from the Department of Justice (DOJ), US Attorney Eileen M. Decker said, “These defendants are charged with abusing their privileged access on behalf of drug dealers. This case is yet another example of employees associated with airports assisting drug traffickers.”
According to KTLA 5 News, Ponce admitted in a written statement that Gutierrez had used his supervisory status at LAX to smuggle cocaine via couriers to potential customers out of state. He added that the couriers received payments for boarding commercial flights from LAX to the East Coast to deliver the drugs. Court records also show that Ponce admitted to working for a drug trafficking ring.
Los Angeles International Airport Police Chief Patrick Gannon was quoted by FOX News saying that officers were limiting employee access to secure areas in order to prevent insider threats. He also added that employees coming out of restricted areas are being inspected by the police.
If Ponce and Gutierrez are found guilty, they will face the prospect of a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, and a statutory maximum sentence of life imprisonment.