A former JetBlue Airways flight attendant who tried to smuggle nearly 60 pounds of cocaine onto a plane at Los Angeles International Airport in her carry-on baggage was sentenced Monday to time served — about two years — by a federal judge who cited her crucial testimony in the prosecution of her supplier.
Marsha Gay Reynolds, 33, will likely be released from custody in time to return home to Queens, New York, with her parents, who attended the sentencing hearing in downtown Los Angeles.
“She obviously provided substantial assistance to the government,” U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder said, adding that prosecutors would have had a far more difficult time convicting Jamaican drug dealer Gaston Brown without her help.
Defense lawyer Stuart Goldfarb said Reynolds acted as a “mule” — someone who smuggles drugs on their person or in their luggage across borders in exchange for cash.
“She never had any problems before she made this bad decision,” he said outside court.
Reynolds declined an opportunity to make a statement, referring the judge to a letter she filed in her case under seal. Snyder called the letter “compelling,” and mentioned that the defendant had spent her time in custody to her “maximum advantage” by taking various betterment classes.
Before her testimony against Brown led prosecutors to recommend an unusually lenient sentence, Reynolds had faced a mandatory minimum of 10 years behind bars for her guilty plea in December 2016 to a single federal count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine.
Brown, 41, was convicted at trial in February of conspiracy and other federal charges. He is expected to be sentenced in August.
Reynolds gained national media attention after she sprinted down an “up” escalator and out of LAX, leaving behind her luggage, after she was randomly selected for secondary screening on March 18, 2016. The following day, she worked a JetBlue flight back to New York and surrendered to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
A former beauty pageant contestant in Jamaica and New York University track athlete, Reynolds had been a JetBlue employee for six years.
The drug discovery was made 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 with a heavy Jamaican accent — then kicked off her Gucci high heels and ran down the escalator and out of the terminal.
Reynolds was paid thousands of dollars for smuggling drugs and money through LAX and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on about 10 occasions, starting in October 2015, using her crew member status to avoid security screening at both airports, prosecutors said.
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 an early hearing in the case.
After Reynolds’ arrest, Brown fled to Jamaica under a false name. He was arrested months afterwards attempting to illegally re-enter the U.S. by boat.
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.