Five people have been arrested in a scheme to illegally transport guns, including AK-47s, on passenger jets bound for New York City and destined for sale on the streets of Brooklyn, officials said Tuesday.
Four men were charged in two separate indictments in Brooklyn, according to Brooklyn Dist. Atty. Kenneth Thompson. A day earlier, a baggage handler for Delta Air Lines, Eugene Harvey, was arrested on federal charges in Atlanta.
The group is accused of conspiring to sell 153 firearms, including AK-47 assault weapons and 9-millimeter handguns. One of the defendants, Mark Quentin Henry, took guns aboard at least 17 commercial flights this year from Atlanta to New York airports with the help of Harvey, authorities said.
"In this age of terrorism, it is simply unthinkable that anyone would breach the security of our nation's airports to smuggle guns and ammunition, including assault weapons, on commercial airliners and jeopardize countless lives all to make money," Thompson told reporters. "To make matters worse, these guns were intended to hit the streets of Brooklyn, where they could have been used to shoot and kill our residents and police officers. The full weight of the law must now come down on these defendants."
Harvey, 31, was charged with trafficking firearms, violating airport security and aiding others in the smuggling scheme. Federal officials told the Los Angeles Times that he appeared in federal court in Atlanta and was released on bond.
According to the FBI complaint and affidavit in the case, the charges against the group stemmed from Henry's arrest two weeks ago in New York by an undercover city police officer. The 45-year-old Henry, a former Delta employee who had been fired in 2010, was taken into custody on Dec. 10 and charged with weapons trafficking.
Henry, of Brooklyn and Georgia, was ordered held without bail. Also named in the indictments were Ernest Leneau, 54, of Brooklyn, who was ordered held in lieu of $1.5-million bond, and Adrian Alleyne, 24, of Brooklyn, who was held on $250,000 bond. Grayling Smith, 51, of Brooklyn and Snellville, Ga., is awaiting extradition from Georgia, prosecutors in New York said.
The four Brooklyn defendants in the case were charged in a 591-count indictment alleging conspiracy, first-degree criminal possession of a weapon and first-degree criminal sale of a firearm. Many of the charges carry a maximum penalty of 25 years.
Henry told federal investigators he had traveled from Atlanta to New York with the guns and ammunition in his carry-on bag, which would not have made it past the usual screening by the Transportation Security Administration.
Investigators backtracked at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where Harvey worked in the baggage transfer room. Investigators said security records showed that Harvey used his employee card to enter the secure area just before 7 a.m. the day of Henry's flights to New York.
Officials said security video showed Harvey entering a men's restroom where Henry was waiting. Officials believe the weapons were transferred there.
A minute later, Henry walked back out carrying the backpack in which the guns were later found, officials said.
Henry, a former baggage handler and ramp agent, was fired from the airline for abusing its buddy-pass system. He used pass benefits belonging to his mother, a retired Delta gate agent, to arrange for the flights between Atlanta and New York, according to the FBI affidavit.
"Delta is cooperating with authorities in this investigation," the airline said in a statement. "We take seriously any activity that fails to uphold our strict commitment to the safety and security of our customers and employees."