ATLANTA, Ga. — A former Delta Airlines ramp agent at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, who attempted to obtain a suitcase containing more than $614,000 worth of illegal drugs off of a flight from Mexico City, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal district court to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Luis Marroquin, 35, of Atlanta, had previously been indicted by a federal grand jury May 1 on charges of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances and attempting to import methamphetamine and heroin into the United States from Mexico. Kelvin Rondon, 27, of Atlanta, a former Delta Airlines ramp agent who was indicted with Marroquin, pleaded guilty July 19 to the same charge.
United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said of the case: "These guilty pleas demonstrate a continued strong commitment by the U.S. Attorney's Office, ICE, our other law enforcement partners and airline security teams to uncover, arrest and successfully prosecute those individuals who traffic illegal drugs through our airport."
"Keeping dangerous drugs out of our communities is a team effort," said Brock D. Nicholson, special agent in charge of HSI Atlanta. "Thanks to the excellent work done by Delta Airlines security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, HSI special agents were able to unravel this scheme and ensure the defendants will be held accountable for their criminal actions." Nicholson oversees HSI activities in Georgia and the Carolinas.
According to information presented in court, on Jan. 13 at approximately 11:57 a.m. Delta Airlines flight number 364 arrived at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport from Mexico City, Mexico. Shortly thereafter, a Delta Airlines agent found an unclaimed piece of luggage on a baggage carousel with a tag corresponding to Flight 364. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents inspected the luggage, and determined that it contained multiple packages of methamphetamine and heroin. Later that same day, HSI special agents interviewed Carlos R. Springer, 41, of Hampton, Ga., who was the performance leader for the shift of ramp employees who off-loaded the baggage on Flight 364. During a search of Springer's cellular telephone, special agents found coded incriminating text messages between Springer and Marroquin around the time of the arrival of the flight which concerned a missing bag. The investigation revealed that Marroquin recruited Rondon to locate the suitcase of drugs from the aircraft and showed Rondon a picture of the bag from Marroquin's cellular telephone in advance of the arrival of the flight. Marroquin, Rondon and Springer were charged in the same indictment May 1 with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine and heroin, and attempting to import methamphetamine and heroin into the United States from Mexico.
A federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment June 6 which also charged Stephanie Baxter, 26, of Atlanta, with concealing and harboring Marroquin while he remained a fugitive in this case. Baxter was in the process of selling Marroquin's assets so that Marroquin could supposedly flee to his native Guatemala. HSI special agents foiled the plan and arrested Marroquin at a residence in Coral Springs, Fla., May 8.
The sentencings for Marroquin and Rondon have not yet been scheduled. Marroquin and Rondon could receive maximum sentences of life in prison and fines of up to $10,000,000. In determining the actual sentences, the court will consider the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which are not binding but provide appropriate sentencing ranges for most offenders.
Springer's and Baxter's cases remain pending in federal court.