Money from drug seizures to help airport

Proceeds from assets seized from drug busts at Bob Hope Airport — including 22 pounds of cocaine concealed in carry-on luggage — and other arrests will be tapped to pay for three new police vehicles at the airfield.

The Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority approved the $88,000 purchase of three new Chevy Tahoes for police, without a dime coming from the airport’s budget.

Instead, the airport will tap a special U.S. Department of Justice fund that allows local police and prosecutors to get some of the take when their agencies are involved in stings resulting in the seizure of cash, vehicles or other equipment paid for with drug money.

Bob Hope Airport Police Chief Ed Skvarna and Drug Enforcement Agency spokeswoman Sarah Pullen were tight-lipped about how often drugs or related assets are seized at the airport.

“If our officers come into contact with narcotics, we’ll do the investigation and make the arrest as necessary,” Skvarna said.

He said the DEA task force appears at the airport frequently.

“If they have specific information that something is happening, they come down,” he said. “If they make a seizure, then we get some of the money they receive.”

Local agencies can apply for as much as 80% of the proceeds from seized assets, Pullen said.

The DEA has a unit based at Los Angeles International Airport, according to Pullen, and works closely with local police, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and other agencies.

Skvarna said the last major bust at Bob Hope Airport was in September 2009, when Cecilley Grant was arrested on suspicion of trying to conceal 22 pounds of cocaine in carry-on luggage as she prepared to board a Sunday morning flight from Burbank to New York City.

The cocaine had been packed into computer carrying cases, mimicking the weight of laptop computers, Skvarna said. Grant pleaded no contest to drug transportation and possession charges last May and was sentenced to five years in prison, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

In seeking approval for the new Tahoes, Skvarna told the airport authority that the SUVs are better suited than cruisers for airport police work, as his officers are rarely involved in chases and often have to drive in unpaved areas.

The new vehicles will replace a 1996 SUV that will be given to the airport engineering department. Cruisers acquired in 2005 and 2006 that have 117,000 and 96,000 miles on them, respectively, will be sold at auction, officials said.

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