US: Baggage handlers smuggle guns, drugs onto plane

Officials won't comment on security breach, but say passengers on Delta flight weren't in danger, due to presence of two air marshals on board.

guns and drugs 88 (photo credit: )
guns and drugs 88
(photo credit: )
Two airline baggage handlers used their employee uniforms and identification cards to carry a duffel bag loaded with guns and drugs into a plane's passenger cabin, bypassing security screeners, according to court documents. Passengers on the Delta flight from Florida to Puerto Rico were in little danger despite more than a dozen guns being on board, because at least two federal air marshals were also on the plane, a US Transportation Security Administration spokesman said Thursday. TSA spokesman Christopher White declined to address the security breach or whether the marshals knew that guns were on the plane. He said multiple marshals were on the plane, but declined to specify how many. A tip led authorities to investigate the men aboard the flight Monday, said Carlos Baixauli, a special agent with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Thomas Anthony Munoz, 22, was arrested when he got off the plane at the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan. Authorities found 13 handguns, one assault rifle and eight clear bags containing a total of 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms) of marijuana in his duffel bag, Baixauli said. Zabdiel J. Santiago Balaguer, 22, was arrested late Tuesday and remained in custody Thursday in the Orange County Jail. Stephen Langs, the public defender representing Balaguer, said Thursday his client plans to plead not guilty. It was not clear whether Munoz had an attorney. Munoz and Balaguer, both US residents, were charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and possessing firearms in interstate commerce during a drug trafficking offense, court documents said. The two men worked for Comair, a subsidiary of Delta. Both passed federal background checks before employment, said Kate Marx, Comair spokeswoman. Both men have been suspended from their jobs pending the investigation, Marx said. Balaguer delivered guns and drugs to Puerto Rico several times himself and offered to pay Munoz as much as $5,000 (€3,806) to make the delivery to Puerto Rico, according to court documents. A contact in Puerto Rico had wired more than $1,800 (€1,370) to Balaguer last week, which was used to buy the guns and drugs, according to a federal agent's affidavit. Screening at US airports follow the process outlined by the Transportation Security Administration, said Carolyn Fennell, an Orlando airport spokeswoman. White refused to comment on whether the TSA will increase security or improve security plans after the Orlando breach.