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Two former bag handlers arrested in connection with cocaine-smuggling plot at LAX

Two former baggage handlers at Los Angeles International Airport are in federal custody after being arrested Monday morning on suspicion of cocaine trafficking, authorities said.

Adrian Ponce, 27, and Alberto Preciado Gutierrez, 26, both from South Gate, have been charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine through LAX to the East Coast, according to a federal affidavit. Ponce is accused of  admitting to driving cocaine to the East Coast in trucks as well, authorities said.

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Law enforcement officers last December seized roughly two pounds of cocaine from Preciado in a restroom in Terminal 3 of LAX, near Gate 34, authorities said. At the time, he was allegedly trying to pass the drugs to a courier who had a ticket for a Jet Blue flight, according to LAX police officer Michael Woodard, who is part of a task force investigating drug smuggling. Ponce, who was found nearby, was also taken into custody.

The next day, in a written statement to police, Ponce admitted to smuggling drugs through the airport with Preciado on four occasions, according to authorities. He told police he was working for a large-scale drug distributor, according to court records.

According to Ponce, if buyers liked the "sample" of cocaine that was sent through LAX, the distributor would arrange for the shipment of more than 220 pounds of cocaine in a hidden compartment of a so-called bob-tail truck. Ponce is accused of telling investigators he had driven the truck on more than one occasion.

Both men had worked at LAX before they were arrested. Preciado was the duty manager for Swissport International Ltd. and oversaw ramp crews and could enter the airport without security checks. He brought a backpack into the airport daily and it was never checked, according to authorities.

The arrests are the latest in a string of drug smuggling investigations that have focused on LAX workers and airline personnel.

Last month, federal authorities apprehended Jet Blue flight attendant Marcia Gay Reynolds, accusing her of attempting to smuggle 70 pounds of cocaine through LAX. Authorities say the drugs were in her baggage, which was randomly checked.

Reynolds is due in a downtown federal courtroom Monday in connection with federal drug charges.

Two years ago, a Delta bag handler at LAX received 27 months in prison for his part in a drug smuggling ring. That same year a Transportation Security Administration officer got 80 months for his part in a a drug smuggling conviction involving 11 people, including some TSA officers.

For SoCal crime & investigations follow me on Twitter @lacrimes

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