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Flight attendant accused of smuggling 70 pounds of cocaine at LAX due in court

A JetBlue flight attendant who surrendered to authorities in New York after officials said she ditched her carry-on bag stuffed with cocaine at Los Angeles International Airport is scheduled to appear in a Brooklyn federal courthouse Thursday, officials said.

Marsha Gay Reynolds, 31, of Queens, N.Y., was taken into custody in New York on Wednesday and charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute after she dropped a bag loaded with nearly 70 pounds of cocaine at a security checkpoint and sprinted out of LAX on Friday night, authorities said.

After fleeing, Reynolds managed to board one of her company's planes and travel to New York City, a law enforcement source told the Los Angeles Times.

Reynolds fled from LAX on Friday night after she was randomly selected for a security screening, according to her criminal complaint.

Reynolds may have worked as an attendant on the Saturday flight to New York, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss details of the case.

Investigators had yet to identify Reynolds on Saturday, so it is unlikely she raised any alarms when passing through airport security the next day, the source said. It was not clear what airport she flew out of on Saturday.

Reynolds surrendered to Drug Enforcement Administration agents at John F. Kennedy International Airport, according to a statement by the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles. After her court appearance Friday, she is expected to return to California, the statement said.

“Our nation's security depends on every individual with security clearances to honor the trust placed in them,” U.S. Atty. Eileen M. Decker said in the statement. “The defendant's conduct violated that trust and, in the process, exposed the public to a major narcotics transaction and the dangers inherent to such a transaction.”

Reynolds faces a minimum of 10 years in prison if convicted. JetBlue said it was cooperating with the DEA and the FBI and declined to comment further.

Reynolds arrived at LAX's Terminal 4 around 7 p.m. Friday and provided her badge to a Transportation Security Administration officer, according to the complaint. The officer confirmed that she was a pre-screened crew member when the scanner randomly selected her for additional security screening. Airport and airline staff aren’t subject to routine security checks at LAX.

Reynolds became nervous and made a phone call, talking to someone in a foreign language as she was escorted to a second checkpoint, the complaint said.

As they approached the checkpoint, Reynolds began to walk farther behind the security officer. When they arrived at the screening area, Reynolds dropped her luggage, kicked off her heels and sprinted away from the area, according to the complaint. She barreled down an escalator the wrong way, exited the terminal and kept racing toward Terminal 5, the complaint said.

Security officers did not pursue Reynolds because they were concerned that the abandoned luggage might contain explosives, the complaint said. After bomb-sniffing dogs confirmed that the bags did not contain explosives, Los Angeles Airport police officers discovered 68.49 pounds of cocaine wrapped in 11 separate packages inside the abandoned luggage, the document indicated.

Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Assn., said this week that the incident highlights the need for airline staff members to be subject to the same scrutiny as other passengers traveling through LAX.

“Just like traveling passengers, airport and airline employees should undergo the same screening to help decrease the opportunities for these employees to commit crimes and to help eliminate ‘insider’ or ‘lone wolf’ criminal activity,” he said in a statement. “It is long overdue that both of these recommendations be implemented.”

McClain said it was unlikely that Friday was Reynolds’ first attempt to exploit her security clearance.

“I don’t believe anybody would trust a mule with that amount of dope the first time out,” he told The Times. “You’re talking about $2 million worth of cocaine. ... That’s pretty troubling. This is more than likely not her first time doing this.”

Follow @JamesQueallyLAT and @lacrimes for crime and police news in Southern California.

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