Man indicted after heroin wrapped in Christmas-themed paper is found in luggage at LAX

A Los Angeles man was indicted on suspicion of trying to smuggle heroin wrapped in Christmas-themed paper onto a flight departing Los Angeles International Airport, federal authorities said.

A federal grand jury Tuesday indicted James Mitchell, 25, on one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin on a Frontier Airlines flight to Cincinnati, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

If convicted, Mitchell faces up to life in federal prison, federal prosecutors said.

Mitchell was arrested Dec. 21, more than a week after authorities discovered 13 pounds of heroin — estimated to have a street value of $2.1 million — inside his luggage, prosecutors said.

After Mitchell checked in for his flight Dec. 10, he also checked a piece of luggage, according to federal prosecutors. As the luggage went through an image scan, security workers were “alerted to an unknown dense material” inside the bag, prosecutors said.

After inspecting the luggage, security workers found “six packages of a suspicious gray brittle concrete-like substance,” according to the attorney’s office.

One of the packages had a vinegar odor and triggered a closure in the airport’s Terminal 3 while it was examined by crews to determine if it posed a chemical threat.

Meanwhile, Frontier Airlines staff called Mitchell, who told them he was in the restroom because he wasn’t feeling well, prosecutors said.

Instead, surveillance cameras showed Mitchell on his cellphone leaving the terminal, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. He was also seen removing a beanie from his head, changing his sweater and walking away from the airport, prosecutors said.

Mitchell worked for Inglewood-based Aero Port Services and had access to secure areas in the airport, prosecutors said. He is scheduled to appear Jan. 18 in U.S. District Court.

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

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