A former JetBlue Airways flight attendant pleaded guilty Monday to trying to smuggle through LAX security nearly 60 pounds of cocaine worth up to $3 million in her carry-on luggage.
She could face 10 years in prison.
She made headlines when she was pulled aside during a random search and instead kicked off her high-heels and ran from officers before her scheduled flight at Los Angeles International Airport. It wasn’t clear if the flight left without her or if her actions disrupted the JetBlue schedule.
Marsha Gay Reynolds, 32, entered her plea to a single count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. She’s scheduled to be sentenced March 13 on the felony charge, which is punishable by a 10-year mandatory minimum prison term, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Reynolds was initially charged with possession with intent to distribute, but the allegations against her expanded to conspiracy involving an unindicted co-conspirator, according to charging documents filed in Los Angeles federal court.
Shackled and wearing white jail clothing, Reynolds stood in the courtroom as Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Mitchell recited the factual basis for the charge.
He said Reynolds had been working for a drug distribution network led by a Jamaican — identified only by the initials G.B. — who had been in the county illegally.
Reynolds, he said, was paid thousands of dollars for smuggling drugs and money through LAX and John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on about 10 occasions, starting in October 2015.
Mitchell said Reynolds used her crew member status to avoid security screening at both airports.
Reynolds, a U.S. citizen who had been living with her family in Queens, New York, sprinted down an “up” escalator and out of LAX, leaving behind her luggage, after she was randomly selected for secondary screening March 18. The following day, she worked a JetBlue flight back to New York and surrendered to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents there on March 23, Mitchell said.
A former beauty pageant contestant in Jamaica, Reynolds had been a New York-based JetBlue employee for six years. Her lawyer said she was also a nursing student, but withdrew from school before her arrest.
The drug discovery was made March 18 in Terminal 4 by a Transportation Security Administration security officer who was screening the airline attendant’s carry-on bags as part of a random search. As a crew member, Reynolds would ordinarily get to bypass bag screening.
As the TSA officer led Reynolds to a location to be searched, she made a cell phone call — speaking in what sounded like a foreign language — then kicked off her Gucci high heels and ran from the terminal down the up escalator, according to an affidavit filed in the case.
“Upon being notified she was going to secondary screening, she appeared nervous and kept her distance from the supervisor,” U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte said at an April bail review hearing. “And before the bags were even open, she utilized her track skills to flee from the airport.”
Reynolds’ abandoned luggage was found to contain 11 individually wrapped packages — labeled “Big Ranch” — that were taken to the Los Angeles police’s Forensic Science Division, where the contents tested positive for cocaine, court papers show.
“It takes a very bold criminal to run through the airport — and come back the next day and flee the district,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Reema M. El- Amamy said after the earlier hearing.
Following Reynolds’ arrest, G.B. fled to Jamaica under a false name.
Asked this afternoon whether the co-conspirator might be arrested by Jamaican authorities and extradited to the U.S. to face charges, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office said only that “the investigation is continuing.”
Following the foiled drug-smuggling attempt, Marshall McClain, president of the Los Angeles Airport Police Officers Association, called for 100 percent screening of all airport employees.
— City News Service
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