James Mitchell, an employee of Aero Port Services at LAX, was indicted today on federal drug trafficking charges for allegedly trying to smuggle at least one kilogram of heroin on a plane leaving Los Angeles International Airport. The heroin was wrapped in Christmas paper and concealed in checked luggage on a flight that was bound for Cincinnati, Ohio. A federal grand jury indicted Mitchell on one count of possession with intent to distribute heroin.
While the indictment alleges more than one kilogram of heroin, authorities recovered approximately six kilograms of heroin from Mitchell’s luggage. The narcotics would have a street value of approximately $2.1 million in Ohio.
At the time of the narcotics seizure, Mitchell was an employee of Aero Port Services at LAX and had direct access to secure areas of the airport. The complaint specifically alleges that Mitchell attempted to smuggle approximately 2.15 pounds of heroin through a security checkpoint at LAX on December 10.
At that date, Mitchell had checked in for a Frontier Airlines flight to Cincinnati, Ohio, only two days after purchasing a one-way ticket. Mitchell checked one article of luggage that “alerted to an unknown dense material” during an “image scan” by the Transportation Security Administration. An inspection of the bag revealed “six packages of a suspicious gray brittle concrete-like substance,” one of which later tested positive for heroin. The packages were wrapped in Christmas-themed paper.
TSA officials noted a “vinegar odor” emanating from one of the packages, which prompted Los Angeles World Airport (LAWA) police officers to seek assistance from a Hazardous Materials Unit. A portion of Terminal 3 was closed while personnel worked to detect and alleviate any potential chemical threat.
LAWA Police responding to the scene worked with Frontier Airlines in an attempt to locate Mitchell. When he answered a phone call from Frontier personnel, Mitchell told the gate agent he was in the restroom and not feeling well. At about this same time, airport surveillance cameras captured Mitchell exiting the terminal while speaking on a cell phone. Once outside, Mitchell removed a beanie cap from his head and changed his sweater, disappearing on foot in the lower terminal arrival area.
Investigators ultimately tracked Mitchell down at his Pico-Union residence, obtained an arrest warrant, and took him into custody without incident on December 21, 2016.
If he is convicted of the drug trafficking charge, he would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and a statutory maximum sentence of life. He is scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment in United States District Court on January 18.
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