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Contraband
10/09/2012

Boston-bound man arrested at LAX for transporting hazardous materials

Suspect's luggage contained smoke grenade, knives, gas masks, body bags and bio hazard suits

LOS ANGELES — A body-armor-clad Boston man who arrived at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on a flight from Japan Friday is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court Tuesday afternoon on a charge of transporting hazardous materials after a search of his checked luggage turned up a smoke grenade, along with a hatchet, knives, other weapons, a gas mask, biohazard suits and body bags.

Yongda Huang Harris, 28, a naturalized U.S. citizen of Chinese descent, was referred for secondary inspection Friday afternoon by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at LAX after CBP officers observed he was wearing a bulletproof vest and flame retardant pants underneath his trench coat.

CBP officers alerted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents, who responded and opened a formal investigation after CBP's subsequent search of Harris' checked luggage resulted in the discovery of numerous suspicious items. According to the HSI case affidavit, those items included a pyrotechnic smoke grenade, three leather-coated billy clubs, a collapsible baton, a full-face respirator, various knives, a hatchet, body bags, a biohazard suit, handcuffs, leg irons and a device to repel dogs.

The case affidavit states that when a member of the Los Angeles Police Department's bomb squad conducted an x-ray examination of the smoke grenade, it showed the device fell under the United Nations' explosives shipping classification, meaning it is prohibited on board passenger aircraft. Depending on the conditions when it is ignited, the smoke grenade, made by Commando Manufacturers, could potentially fill the cabin of a commercial airplane with smoke or cause a fire.

HSI's probe into Friday's incident is ongoing and investigators here are coordinating closely with HSI's attaché office in Tokyo. Officials say Harris, who makes his permanent home in Boston, has been living and working recently in Japan.

Harris is charged in a criminal complaint with one count of transporting hazardous materials. The charge carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.

In addition to the Los Angeles Police Department, HSI received assistance with the case from the FBI.