Los Angeles CA Dec 23 2016 A Los Angeles man who works at Los Angeles International Airport is facing federal drug trafficking charges for allegedly trying to smuggle around two pounds of heroin wrapped in Christmas paper onto a jetliner.
James Mitchell, who lives in the Pico-Union neighborhood, was arrested Wednesday by special agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration after prosecutors filed a criminal complaint in Los Angeles federal court, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Mitchell, 25, allegedly attempted to smuggle 2.1 pounds of heroin through a security checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport on Dec. 10 upon arriving for a flight to Cincinnati, Ohio.
Mitchell, who had purchased a one-way ticket, checked one piece of luggage that triggered an alert for “an unknown dense material” during an image scan by the Transportation Security Administration, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
An inspection of the bag revealed “six packages of a suspicious gray brittle concrete-like substance,” one of which later tested positive for heroin, prosecutors allege.
The packages were wrapped in Christmas-themed paper, court documents state. TSA officials noted a “vinegar odor” emanating from one of the packages, which prompted Los Angeles World Airport police to seek assistance from a hazardous materials unit.
A portion of Terminal 3 was closed while personnel worked to detect and alleviate any potential chemical threat.
Airport police worked with Frontier Airlines in an attempt to locate Mitchell. When he answered a phone call from Frontier personnel, Mitchell told the gate agent he was in the restroom and was not feeling well, according to court papers.
About the same time, airport surveillance cameras captured Mitchell exiting the terminal while speaking on a cell phone. Once outside, Mitchell removed a beanie cap from his head and changed his sweater, disappearing on foot in the lower terminal arrival area, prosecutors say.
Investigators ultimately tracked Mitchell down at his home, obtained an arrest warrant, and took him into custody without incident.
After his arrest, investigators confirmed Mitchell is an employee of Aero Port Services — which provides wheelchair and baggage porter services and aircraft ground servicing at LAX — and has direct access to secure areas of the airport, court papers state.
“At a time when airlines are carrying loved ones across the country and the world, this defendant jeopardized passenger safety by attempting to use the system to traffic in dangerous drugs,” U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker alleged.
At this point, Mitchell is charged in relation to only one of the six packages recovered from his luggage. Authorities are in the process of testing the other five packages to confirm the possible presence of heroin. The total weight of all six packages was roughly 6.5 kilograms, which is more than 14 pounds, prosecutors said.
The complaint charges Mitchell with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute heroin, and possession with the intent to distribute heroin. If he were to be convicted of those two counts, he would face a mandatory minimum of between five and 40 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.