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Feds say that baggage handlers facilitated marijuana conspiracy

A lot of things can be smuggled into the country and made to escape the scrutiny of airport officials, if those doing the smuggling are baggage personnel working for one or more of the airlines. California recently faced that problem when federal authorities charged each of 14 people with a single felony count of participating in a conspiracy to distribute 100 or more kilograms of marijuana. The felony charge exposes each defendant to between five and 40 years in a federal prison.

There are three Southwest Airlines baggage handlers among the persons arrested, with the other suspects being couriers who allegedly carried the marijuana to the designated cities. The baggage handlers purportedly got the drug through the security gates and into the hands of the traveling couriers, who had already passed through security. The conspiracy had reportedly been going on for about the past three years, according to the federal indictment.  

The group reportedly carried on an intricate plot of instructions and maneuvers that were used to assure that the drugs got through all of the security checkpoints. One of the baggage handlers is also accused of using employee discounts for cargo shipments to send many shipments by cargo delivery. The three baggage handlers and six of the alleged couriers have been apprehended, but three people remain at large.

Suspects will benefit by retaining defense counsel familiar with both California and federal law regarding airline regulations and drug enforcement provisions. The depth of the evidence is presently unclear, but federal authorities excel at obtaining cooperating witness testimony in similar conspiracy prosecutions. A defendant who cooperates early and provides all available information to the authorities may end up with little or no jail time, depending as always on the totality of the circumstances. For all of the defendants, the potential of being sentenced to a possible 40-year term for allegedly delivering marijuana may be understandably frightening, considering the trend toward legalization of marijuana, its approval for medical uses in many states and its actual across-the-board legality in at least two states.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "3 Southwest Airlines baggage handlers, 11 others accused of smuggling drugs", Matt Hamilton, May 18, 2015

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