Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

A Los Angeles man who worked at Los Angeles International Airport and was arrested while trying to smuggle more than two pounds of heroin wrapped as Christmas gifts onto a jetliner was expected to plead guilty Monday to a federal charge.

James Mitchell, who lives in the Pico-Union district in Los Angeles, has agreed to enter the plea to a single felony count of possession with intent to distribute at least a kilogram of heroin, according to court papers. Mitchell faces a mandatory minimum of between five and 40 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Mitchell, 25, was arrested after attempting to smuggle 2.1 pounds of heroin through a security checkpoint at LAX on Dec. 10 for a flight to Cincinnati, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Mitchell, who had purchased a one-way ticket, checked one piece of luggage that triggered an alert for “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, prosecutors wrote in court documents.

The packages, wrapped in Christmas-themed paper, gave off a “vinegar odor,” which prompted Los Angeles Airport Police 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.

Investigators ultimately tracked Mitchell down at his home, obtained an arrest warrant, and took him into custody without incident.

After his arrest, investigators confirmed Mitchell was an employee of Aero Port Services — which provides wheelchair and baggage porter services and aircraft ground servicing at LAX — and has direct access to secure areas of the airport, court papers state.

—City News Service

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