April 28, 2011

DETROIT: 12 Airport Employees Charged In 2 Drug Smuggling Rings

Detroit Free Press
written by Tresa Baldas
Thursday April 28, 2011

Twelve people were charged today in two separate drug smuggling schemes involving baggage handlers at Detroit Metro Airport for allegedly helping to sneak in marijuana and cocaine hidden in suitcases coming from Jamaica and Houston.

According to a criminal complaint unsealed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, six individuals were charged with running a drug smuggling scheme between Jamaica and Detroit. The complaint alleges Northwest/Delta Airlines baggage handlers at Detroit Metro Airport were in cahoots with Jamaican-based airport employees who helped sneak the suitcases full of marijuana and cocaine into Detroit. The scheme was discovered on Jan. 23, 2010, when a federal agent learned from another agent in Jamaica of a drug seizure that had just taken place by Jamaican customs.

Those charged in the Jamaican drug smuggling operation were: Glenford Stephens, 48, of Lathrup Village; Kevin Jernigan, 49, of Dearborn Heights; Cordell Coke, 37; Huram Josephs, 41; Rex Lee, 27; and Christopher Bradley, 36. All are from Michigan, but hometowns for all of the defendants were not immediately known. They were charged with importing controlled substances, possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance and conspiracy of possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.

According to the complaint, roughly 53 pounds of marijuana was discovered inside a suitcase that was about to board Northwest Airlines Flight #2321, which was bound for Detroit Metro Airport. The suitcase was tagged with a seemingly legitimate Northwest Airlines baggage tag, bearing the name of an unidentified individual, the complaint said.

The federal agent later learned the unidentified individual was an unwitting particpant in a smuggling attempt. The agent immediately coordinated with U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at Detroit Metro Airport in an effrort to incercept all baggage arriving aboard the Northwest flight. In Detroit, federal agents ended up discovering an additional five suitcases containing roughly 16 kilograms of cocaine and 129 kilograms of marijuana, the complaint said. Each suitcase had a Northwest Airlines baggage tag attached, it said.

A review of the baggage tags' numbers with Nortwest/Delta Airlines security personnel revealed the tags had been prepared under an employee code belonging to a Northwest/Delta Airlines employee stationed in Montego Bay, Jamaica, the complaint said. Each of the tags was assigned to actual passengers, none of whom were involved in the scheme, the complaint said.

"It was then determined that an internal conspiracy involving Nortwest/Delta Airlines employees had been discovered, with the most likely participants being DTW-based Northwest/Delta Airlines baggage handlers, working in cooperation with Jamaican based airport employees," the complaint read.

Charged in another complaint that involved a separate drug smuggling scheme between Detroit and Houston were: Floyd Adams, Calvin Atwater, LaDale Callaway, Cher Denton, Clifford Skinner and Yohanis Watson. They were all charged charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana.

“This is a very significant drug smuggling case for ICE — it has global implications,” said U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement spokesman Khaalid Walls.

Delta spokeswoman Susan Elliott issued this statement from Delta today: "We have fully cooperated with federal authorities in this matter. Delta does not tolerate employees found using their position for illegal activity and these employees have been suspended without pay. Additional disciplinary action could be taken pending the final outcome of the investigation."

ICE will hold a news conference at 3:30 p.m. at the Homeland Security Investigations Office in Romulus to discuss the case.

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