A federal judge Friday sentenced a former LAX baggage handler — who participated in a scheme to smuggle cocaine past airport security — to a week behind bars, telling the court that the 25-year-old defendant had shown he is deserving of a “strong, strong benefit of the doubt.”
Antonio H. Botello will also be placed under supervised release for four years, during which time he will serve 15 months in home confinement, U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. ruled, rejecting a prosecutor’s request for a three-year federal prison sentence
“You will go to work and you will go home,” the judge said of the term of home confinement. Botello — who is expected to serve his seven-day sentence at the downtown federal detention center was ordered to self-surrender on June 28.
Botello was among three ex-baggage handlers to plead guilty to participating in the plan to help drug couriers smuggle cocaine through LAX aboard commercial flights for delivery to customers on the East Coast.
Botello was arrested in February 2017 on suspicion of smuggling cocaine by authorities investigating the use of employee credentials to breach airport security.
After accepting his plea in March 2018 to a federal conspiracy charge, Birotte described Botello as “a very young man who got in way too deep.”
Botello, Adrian Ponce, 30, and Alberto Preciado Gutierrez, 29 — all from South Gate — were charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and to distribute cocaine.
In arguing for leniency, Botello’s attorney, Stephanie Ames, told the court that her client was working several jobs and paying the rent on the home he shares with his mother and grandmother.
The attorney said that Botello was employed as a part-time ramp agent at LAX when he spontaneously joined the conspiracy in a minimal role. Ponce, the ringleader of the scheme, had “manipulated” him into playing a part, she said.
Botello declined a chance to make a statement to the court.
“You made a life-changing mistake,” Birotte told the defendant. “And you took advantage of a job many people would kill for.”
Botello’s role in the crime suggests “a significant lack of judgment.” Imposing what he described as “the biggest variance” in sentencing that he has ever ordered, Birotte told the defendant that “if you come back to this court … you will be dealt with severely.”
The judge said Botello deserved a “strong, strong benefit of the doubt” because he has demonstrated a notable effort to “change the trajectory” of his life. Birotte ordered Botello to return to court Nov. 8 so the judge could determine how he was doing.
The case stems from the seizure of 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.
Ponce, 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 the conspiracy charge last year and was sentenced to 18 months behind bars.
Gutierrez also pleaded guilty before Birotte in downtown Los Angeles and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 19.
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