Airport baggage handlers have access to go pretty much anywhere within the airport, including on board and around planes. All it takes is a background check and a security badge. They're trusted to provide a level of security as well, looking for anything out of place. But sometimes that trust is abused, as with the case of four airline contract workers in San Diego.
Felix Samuel Garcia, Paulo Mendez Perez, Saul Bojorquez and Brian Alberto Gonzalez were employees of Delta Global Services — a ground service contractor for several airlines at San Diego's Lindbergh Field. According to a Federal Grand Jury Indictment obtained by NBC San Diego, the men used their airport access to distribute drugs throughout the country.
During the year-long sting operation, the airport workers were observed taking cocaine and methamphetamine into the airport and through security checkpoints in their backpacks. They would then meet a courier in an airport bathroom and pass the drugs under the bathroom stall wall. The courier would then board a flight and take the drugs to their destination to be distributed. Seven other couriers were also arrested in the operation, which netted 17 pounds of cocaine, 18 pounds of meth, and $103,846 in cash.
Drug-sniffing Beagles at the airport in Perth, Australia
It's really not infrequent for drug traffickers to use ties to airline employees or airlines to move their product. Just last November, authorities discovered and seized $300 million worth of heroin from a cargo flight in Taipei. And last September, thirty suitcases of cocaine, worth 200 million Euros were discovered on an Air France Flight prior to departing Venezuela, resulting in the arrest of nine people, including 3 members of Venezuela's National Guard. In Denver, where possession of marijuana was decriminalized early this year, the airport authority and police have announced they will be vigilant about catching pot leaving the airport.
Airline baggage handlers often start out making little more than minimum wage. With the job comes the heavy burden of huge responsibilities, including the punctual departure of flights, aircraft weight and balance, and the safe towing of multimillion-dollar jets. The labor-intensive job often involves kneeling or squatting in cramped spaces within the cargo hold of planes, and the lifting of hundreds of suitcases and cargo boxes each day can take a painful toll the body.
Not to make excuses, as there are none for these alleged crimes, but perhaps these men felt that the potential reward for their act outweighed the dividend of an honest living. After all, living in a place like San Diego comes at a high price. But now, if proven guilty, they only airplanes they'll be seeing will be the ones soaring high overhead their prison yard.
Top image: Cocaine seized in an airport drug bust. Both images via Getty.