A Torrance man pleaded guilty Thursday to participating in a smuggling scheme in which backpacks of drugs were carried through an employee entrance at Los Angeles International Airport and onto eastbound flights.
Peter Contreras—the third man to plead guilty in the case—entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Fernando M. Olguin to a federal charge of attempted distribution of a controlled substance. He faces a mandatory minimum of five years in federal prison when he is sentenced April 24.
According to prosecutors, Contreras and a co-conspirator met last May with a man they thought was a drug distributor, but was actually an undercover agent, who was seeking to send about 11 pounds of cocaine to Boston.
The undercover officer paid Contreras $5,000 to transport a backpack containing what the defendant thought was five bricks of cocaine, but was actually a sham substance, to Boston aboard a Delta flight, prosecutors said.
The following day, Ruben Mendoza—one of two ex-Delta baggage handlers charged in the case—brought the backpack through an LAX employee entrance to avoid security screening.
Mendoza, while working as a baggage handler, then placed the backpack into a checked suitcase for the flight to Boston, according to Mendoza's plea agreement.
Mendoza, of Rialto, pleaded guilty last month to the conspiracy charge and is expected to be sentenced Jan. 23.
The second ex-Delta baggage handler, Ulysses Bluntson, of Los Angeles, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced in November to a year behind bars.
Bluntson told investigators that he was paid $1,000 per bag and that he handled up to a dozen bags without being detected.
A federal grand jury indictment issued last July charged Contreras, Bluntson and Mendoza with six felony counts, including conspiracy to distribute illegal drugs, conspiracy to enter restricted airport areas, distribution of heroin, and aiding and abetting.
—City News Service.