Former Baggage Handlers Indicted on Federal Drug Charges for Using Credentials to Bring Cocaine Past Security

3 individuals were arrested on federal charges of conspiracy for intent to distribute cocaine under 21 US 846, 841 a (1). Jet Blue flight attendant Marsha Gay Reynolds was caught with approximately 70 lb of cocaine during a secondary TSA random check at LAX airport. She tried to run up the escalator with her shoes off after they attempted to escort her to a secure area for further screening. She attempted to call someone on her cellphone while speaking in a foreign language as soon as she was informed that she was randomly chosen for a secondary TSA screening.

Also involved in this scheme are Adrian Ponce and Alberto Preciado Gutierrez. Ponce admitted to driving Gutierrez to the airport, whereby as part of a scheme involving illegal drug transport, they would pay a third party courier (a ticketed flight passenger) approximately $ 1500.00, and split the remaining money for transport of samples of approximately 1 kilo of cocaine. In December 2015, Gutierrez was caught with this amount in the terminal bathroom attempting to make an exchange with a third party courier. After being read their Miranda rights, they both provided statements revealing the scheme of transporting coke using commercial airlines. It is not uncommon for Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCO’s) to use air travel to smuggle drugs by paying off airport or airline personnel with access to sensitive areas of the airport and aircraft. Surveillance revealed the extent of these operations, with Preciado caught on video carrying a backpack containing goods in secure areas of the airport at times after his shift was done. The scheme was intended to provide a sample to customers, and if they were satisfied, the plan was to provide more drugs via hidden compartments of a bobtail truck.

Interesting to note, Ms. Marsha Reynolds is brought under separate complaint charges than Mr. Preciado. This may be a government strategy whereby there are cooperating witnesses and informants that may have impacted the decision to try the cases separately. In a multiple defendant case, it is possible that the co-defendants may be charged in the same formal charging documents thereby they would have a joint trial. In other cases, it may even be better for a defendant if other defendants are charged separately and proceed to trial in separate matters. This is called a motion to sever the trial, sometimes filed by defense attorneys.

Although Ms. Marsha Reynolds was arrested in April of 2015, it appears that the federal government had been investigating this type of scheme using the airport and airport employees since at least December 2015. Agents in charge of investigation are usually highly trained and have experience and certification through International and National narcotics interdiction, as well as professional experience in the commercial aviation industry. Transnational Criminal Organizations are constantly evolving to use different methods to transport and distribute drugs across the country.

Some defenses may include factual basis such as various degrees of participation in a conspiracy and various degrees of intent to distribute. This may be typically called a mistake of fact defense or factual impossibility. The difference is that it may be argued that a defendant made a mistake and therefore did not have the appropriate intent to commit the crime charged, whereas mistake of law defenses may include situations where the crime itself was impossible to carry out, even if the accused had the requisite intent.

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