U.S. News

Feds arrest 12 in airport drug smuggling probe

DETROIT (Reuters) - A dozen people, including 10 current or former Delta Air Lines baggage handlers, face drug trafficking and related charges in a probe of cocaine and marijuana smuggling, federal officials said on Thursday.

Federal agents arrested the 12 people on Thursday in connection with alleged smuggling operations between Jamaica and Detroit, and between Detroit and Houston, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement.

Delta said in a statement that it had cooperated fully with federal authorities and employees allegedly involved had been suspended without pay.

The investigation was launched in January 2010 after Jamaican customs seized a suitcase with 53 pounds of marijuana from a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines jet in Montego Bay, Jamaica, U.S. Immigration and Customs said in a statement.

Federal agents seized another five bags containing about 35 pounds of cocaine and 286 pounds of marijuana and found evidence suggesting airline employees were involved.

In the second operation, an affidavit filed with federal court in Detroit said baggage handlers at the Houston airport shipped marijuana to Detroit, where handlers bypassed security to pass cash bundles to a courier who flew to Houston.

Agents seized about 45 pounds of marijuana in March 2010 after watching baggage handlers take two black duffel bags from a Detroit airport carousel to an SUV. Authorities stopped the SUV near the airport and found two large cellophane wrapped bricks of marijuana in each bag.

Sealed complaints were issued for the defendants earlier in April and authorities arrested 10 in the Detroit area, one in California and one in Houston on Thursday.

Potential sentences would vary based on the weight of the drugs. Cocaine convictions could range from 10 years to life.

A conviction on the shipment of less than 50 kilograms, or about 110 pounds, of marijuana to Detroit from Houston would call for up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine, federal officials said.

Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Jerry Norton