(LM Otero, AP)

Southwest Airlines baggage handlers in Oakland accused of smuggling pot

OAKLAND, Calif. — Almost a dozen Bay Area residents, including three who worked as baggage handlers for Southwest Airlines at Oakland International Airport, have been charged in a conspiracy to use the handlers’ special security access to ship marijuana throughout the United States, federal prosecutors announced Monday.

Fourteen defendants were charged with conspiracy to distribute, and possession with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana, according to the Department of Justice.

The baggage handlers used their ability to avoid security checkpoints and have packages shipped through airline cargo to smuggle the marijuana, according to a 67-page affidavit submitted by prosecutors. At least one of the co-conspirators posted photos of large bundles of cash and marijuana on his Instagram account, officials said.

According to the affidavit, submitted by FBI agent Richard Harvey, the conspiracy was operating as early as July 2012 through March of this year. Law enforcement agents made repeated arrests and seizures at airports across the country beginning in May 2013 as they investigated the drug sales ring.

Phone records obtained by federal officials suggest the group may have also traveled through airports in San Jose and San Francisco using other airlines, but it was not clear if officials believed they were smuggling drugs on those flights.

Baggage handlers Kenneth Wayne Fleming, 32, of San Leandro; and Oakland residents Keith Ramon Mayfield, 34, and Michael Herb Videau, 28, are accused of using their security badges to cross security barriers while carrying duffel bags filled with marijuana.

Officials said the handlers would then use secured doors to enter the terminals and hand off the baggage to co-conspirators who had booked travel on flights to major cities and had already cleared security screenings at the Oakland airport. Those accused of ferrying the marijuana across the country include Oakland residents Major Alexander Session III, 24; Clyde Barry Jamerson, 41; Ronnell Lamar Molton, 34; Dublin resident Kameron Kordero Eldridge Davis, 26; Hayward resident Francisco Manuel Carrasco, 29; and Castro Valley resident Sophia Cherise West, 44.

Money from the sale of the marijuana was deposited into accounts controlled by defendants Ahshatae Marie Millhouse, 27, of Oakland, Laticia Ann Morris, 40, of Little Rock, Ark.; Donald Ray Holland II, 42, of Discovery Bay; and others.

Prosecutors said Mayfield also used his privileges as an airline employee to ship drugs as cargo.

Millhouse, Carrasco and Davillier are still being sought, officials said. Nine other defendants have been arrested in the Bay Area and Arkansas, and Jamerson and Molton are already serving state prison sentences for distributing marijuana in Arkansas and Louisiana, respectively.

Session, Baker and Davillier all have previous convictions for drug and weapon offenses, according to the affidavit.

A statement from Oakland International Airport said airport officials have been working closely with law enforcement from the investigation’s start. and were “pleased to see the investigation concluding and the people involved held accountable.”

A Southwest Airlines statement said that the airline was fully cooperating with authorities and “will continue to work with law enforcement, airport authorities, and our security partners to perform due diligence in upholding high security standards.”

This story was first published on MercuryNews.com