LOS ANGELES– 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.
Adrian Ponce, 27, and Alberto Preciado Gutierrez, 26, both of South Gate, were arrested this morning without incident by law enforcement officers with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department, and the Los Angeles Police Department. Both defendants are scheduled to make their initial appearances this afternoon at 2:00.
The two defendants are charged in a federal criminal complaint with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute cocaine. Both men are expected to make their initial court appearances this afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles.
According to an affidavit by a detective with the Los Angeles Airport Police, who is working with an anti-narcotics trafficking task force at LAX, Ponce and Preciado “were engaged in a nationwide conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and to distribute cocaine.” As part of this conspiracy, Ponce and Preciado facilitated the ability of third-party couriers to use commercial airlines to smuggle kilogram “samples” of cocaine from Los Angeles to drug customers on the East Coast. At the time of the conspiracy, Preciado was a supervisory baggage handler employed by Swissport International at LAX.
“These defendants are charged with abusing their privileged access on behalf of drug dealers,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “This case is yet another example of employees associated with airports assisting drug traffickers.”
Less than two weeks ago, authorities arrested a JetBlue flight attendant who allegedly attempted to bring nearly 70 pounds of cocaine through security at LAX (see:http://go.usa.gov/cM6aW). Marsha Gay Reynolds, who was arrested in New York, has arrived in Los Angeles, and is expected to make her initial appearance in United States District Court this afternoon at 2:00.
As part of the investigation into the former baggage handlers, law enforcement seized a kilogram of cocaine in Preciado's possession on December 16, 2015. According to the affidavit, the seizure was made in a restroom in Terminal 3 at LAX, where Preciado was delivering the cocaine to a courier, a man identified as “J.C.,” who was holding a boarding pass to travel on a JetBlue flight to New York only an hour later. After this incident, Preciado was terminated by Swissport.
The following day, law enforcement interviewed Ponce, who had been taken into custody while waiting for Preciado in a vehicle outside Terminal 3. According to the affidavit, Ponce gave a written statement in which he admitted that “on multiple occasions,” he and Preciado had used Preciado's supervisory status as an LAX employee to smuggle drugs to out-of-state drug customers by using third-party couriers, such as J.C., who had booked flights from LAX to the East Coast, and were willing to take the drugs on a commercial flight in exchange for payment.
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. According to the affidavit, Ponce told law enforcement that if East Coast customers liked the cocaine “sample,” then large shipments – more than 100 kilograms – would be delivered by driving the drugs across the country, and Ponce allegedly admitted actually driving trucks laden with drugs, also in exchange for payment.
Ponce previously worked at LAX for a baggage handling service that was recently acquired by Swissport.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
If they are convicted of the narcotics trafficking offense, Ponce and Preciado would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, and a statutory maximum sentence of life.
This investigation was conducted by the DEA Los Angeles International Airport Narcotics Task Force, an inter-agency task force based at LAX. In addition to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Task Force is made up of representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. The Task Force also works closely with the United States Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration.
The DEA Los Angeles International Airport Narcotics Task Force is providing a coordinated law enforcement effort to target airport/airline internal criminal enterprises that use the aviation system to transport large amounts of illicit drugs throughout the United States, and throughout the world.
Swissport International cooperated in the investigation.
USAO – California, Central Topic: Drug TraffickingUpdated April 4, 2016
Central District of California DOJ / 16-064 / April 4, 2016