By Matt Hamilton, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Three Southwest Airlines baggage handlers at Oakland, California International Airport are among 14 people charged with bypassing airport security in order to smuggle several hundred pounds of marijuana across the country, according to a criminal complaint unsealed Monday.
The three baggage handlers all hail from the San Francisco Bay Area: Kenneth Fleming, 32; Keith Mayfield, 34; and Michael Videau, 28. According to the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco, the three brought backpacks and duffel bags containing marijuana into restricted areas of the airport.
Using their security badges, the baggage handlers entered the airport terminal and handed off the drugs to a ticketed passenger who had already passed through airport security, according to a sworn affidavit filed by federal investigators.
The trio relied on about eight people — who were also named in the complaint — to smuggle the drugs into cities across the nation, including Nashville, Tenn.; Phoenix; New Orleans; and Little Rock, Ark.
The scheme is believed to have started in July 2012 and continued for nearly three years, according to the affidavit.
The 67-page complaint details how the alleged conspiracy operated. Kameron Davis, 26, one of the alleged couriers, said he was paid about $600 to $800 for each of the three trips he made to Nashville and brought a total of about 30 pounds of marijuana into the city, according to the complaint.
About four a.m. on the day of his flight, Davis told federal officials, he would meet one of the baggage handlers, identified as Fleming, and turn over the marijuana, according to the affidavit. After clearing security, he was notified in a text message from Fleming of the rendezvous point inside the terminal, according to the affidavit.
“Wait in the bathroom for five mins when u come upstairs,” Fleming instructed Davis in one text message from April 30, 2013. “Go to the sink like u washing ur hands.”
At such meeting points, authorities allege, the luggage containing the drugs was passed off. Federal authorities identified ten instances in which they allege Fleming handed off the marijuana to one of the couriers passing through Oakland’s Southwest terminal.
Mayfield is also accused of using the cargo discounts provided to Southwest Airlines employees to send nearly two dozen shipments of several kilograms of marijuana to New York City; Charlotte, N.C.; Philadelphia; Atlanta; and Dallas, among other cities, according to the affidavit.
Once the marijuana was sold, authorities say the proceeds were placed into accounts managed by three people — Ahshatae Millhouse, 27; Laticia Morris, 40; and Donald Holland II, 42.
All 14 people named in connection with the drug trafficking scheme have been charged with a felony count of conspiracy to distribute 100 or more kilograms of marijuana, according to the complaint. If convicted, each faces between five and 40 years in federal prison.
So far, nine people named in the complaint have been arrested, including Fleming, Mayfield and Videau. Two others — Clyde Jamerson, 41, and Ronnell Molton, 34 — are already serving prison sentences in Arkansas and Louisiana, according to federal officials.
Three people are fugitives: Brandon Davillier, 27, of Slidell, La.; Francisco Carrasco, 29, of Hayward, Calif.; and Millhouse, of Oakland.
Photo: John Rogers via Flickr