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Ex-Baggage Handlers Face Drug Charges in ‘Insider Threats’ Arrests

Ex-Baggage Handlers Face Drug Charges in ‘Insider Threats’ Arrests
Jeff Edwards

Two former LAX baggage handlers are the latest in a string of airline workers to be arrested for drug trafficking as authorities focus enforcement efforts on employees with access to secure areas of U.S. airports.

Two ex-baggage handlers at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) are accused of transporting several pounds of cocaine through the facility. The two men were arrested Monday following a months-long sting that was coordinated with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the FBI and local law enforcement.

Police say that the pair first came to the attention of investigators in December when they nabbed 26-year-old Alberto Preciado Gutierrez in an airport restroom with nearly 2 pounds of cocaine. Gutierrez was allegedly planning to pass the drugs to a courier who had a ticket on a JetBlue flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). Twenty-seven-year-old Adrian Ponce, who police say used his credentials as a supervisor at LAX to circumvent security screening, was also taken into custody at the time.

Ponce, who is said to be cooperating with authorities, has claimed to be a part of a large-scale drug trafficking ring according to media reports. The ongoing investigation netted its first arrests on Monday when both Gutierrez and Ponce were formally charged with drug trafficking.

“These defendants are charged with abusing their privileged access on behalf of drug dealers,” United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker told Los Angeles CBS affiliate KCBS-TV. “This case is yet another example of employees associated with airports assisting drug traffickers.”

Last week, a JetBlue flight attendant surrendered to authorities after TSA screeners at LAX discovered nearly 70 pounds of cocaine in her bags following a random search. Thirty-two-year-old Marsha Gay Reynolds fled the scene but eventually turned herself in at JFK. So far, authorities have not linked her arrest with that of the two former LAX baggage handlers arrested this week.

LAX Police Chief Patrick Gannon told ABC News that the arrests come as police are making a concerted effort to step up scrutiny of airline and airport workers with access to secure airport areas. “[LAX Police] take the possibility of an insider threat seriously and are creating an environment where every employee should expect they could be stopped and inspected at any time and any place while at the airport,” Gannon said in a statement to reporters.

In December, the TSA announced plans to step up the number of crew members and airport workers subjected to additional random security checks at airports in the U.S. The move followed a number of high-profile security breaches involving credentialed airport workers.

[Photo: Getty]

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