A former JetBlue Airways flight attendant accused of smuggling nearly 60 pounds of cocaine into the Los Angeles International Airport pleaded guilty Monday afternoon in federal court in Los Angeles, officials said.
Marsha Gay Reynolds, 31, of Queens, N.Y., was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute after she abandoned two carry-on luggage bags at a security checkpoint on March 18. She had been randomly selected for a search when she kicked off her heels and dashed out of the airport, according to U.S. District Court documents.
Appearing in a downtown courtroom, Reynolds entered the guilty plea to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine. At her sentencing, scheduled for March 13, she faces a minimum of 10 years and up to life in federal prison, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.
Reynolds is a U.S. citizen born in Jamaica who had competed in beauty pageants in the past. She was studying to become a nurse while working for JetBlue, her former attorney said.
According to federal prosecutors, Reynolds was working with an unnamed man who distributed the cocaine to Massachusetts and other locations. Reynolds’ unidentified co-conspirator, who was in the United States illegally, stole the identities of mentally disabled victims and used them to get passports and driver’s licenses.
He would then fly on commercial airlines while carrying cocaine or drug money, according to federal court documents. Reynolds told the man when she was scheduled to work on a flight, so that they could coordinate his drug activity with her flight itinerary, prosecutors said.
As a flight attendant, Reynolds had access to secure sites at airports that generally don’t require baggage screening.
She smuggled drugs and money and gave them to her co-conspirator, according to prosecutors. He paid Reynolds thousands of dollars for smuggling drugs through the airports, according to court documents.
Prosecutors said she deleted text messages from her co-conspirator.
In the March incident, authorities said the unnamed man had traveled from New York to Los Angeles a day earlier, so he could gather cocaine to dispense to East Coast customers.
The next day, Reynolds flew from New York to Los Angeles to meet with him and grab the luggage, which had already been stuffed with 59.39 pounds of cocaine, according to the federal document. Authorities initially reported the cocaine weighed about 68.49 pounds.
Reynolds then provided her badge to a Transportation Security Administration officer at LAX’s Terminal 4, 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, pulled her cellphone from her purse, and placed a call, federal authorities said. She began speaking in a foreign language. As Reynolds was escorted to a secondary screening area, she dropped her carry-on luggage, kicked off her shoes and ran away.
Reynolds managed to board one of her company’s planes the following day and traveled to New York City, according to court documents. The unnamed man also caught a flight to New York.
Days later, she met up with the unnamed man, who provided her with a prepaid cellphone. He later fled from the United States to Jamaica.
Reynolds surrendered on March 23 to Drug Enforcement Administration agents at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
After she was arrested, family friends as well as her mother offered their homes as a surety for bail. More than a dozen relatives and friends, including a doctor and flight attendant, submitted letters to the court, describing her character and work ethic.
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6:05 p.m.: This article was updated with confirmation that Marsha Reynolds pleaded guilty to a federal drug conspiracy charge.
This article was originally published at 12:10 p.m.