A former baggage handler at LAX pleaded guilty Friday to a federal conspiracy charge for his role in a scheme to smuggle cocaine past security as part of a nationwide drug ring.
Alberto Preciado Gutierrez, 28, is expected to be sentenced early next year. U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. allowed the lengthy delay due to the defendant’s family medical issues, but warned Gutierrez not to take advantage of the 10-month lag.
“These are serious charges,” the judge said. “Don’t forget, you have now pled guilty to a federal offense.”
Gutierrez was among three ex-baggage handlers accused of helping drug couriers smuggle cocaine through Los Angeles International Airport aboard commercial flights for delivery to customers on the East Coast.
At the time of his arrest two years ago, Gutierrez was a supervisory baggage handler employed by Swissport International at LAX.
Authorities seized more than two pounds of cocaine from Gutierrez on Dec. 16, 2015, in a Terminal 3 restroom at LAX, where he was trying to pass the drugs to a man planning to fly to New York on a JetBlue flight, court papers show.
Co-defendant Adrian Ponce, 29, who was waiting for Gutierrez in a vehicle outside the terminal, was interviewed the next day and admitted that the pair took part in similar transactions on multiple occasions, according to federal prosecutors. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy last month.
Alberto H. Botello, 24, who like the others is from South Gate, was arrested in February 2017 and faces trial in April.
The single charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and to distribute the drug carries a possible federal prison term of between five and 40 years, but Gutierrez is expected to be sentenced to no more than 6 1/2 years, according to his plea agreement.