Third man arrested in airport drug plot

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GAINESVILLE, Ga. — The third Atlanta airport worker suspected of plotting to smuggle drug-laden luggage into the U.S. was arrested Tuesday at a house in Florida hours after prosecutors charged his girlfriend with trying to help him escape to Guatemala.

Luis Marroquin had been on the lam for about a week after he and two other Delta Air Lines ramp workers were charged with trying to smuggle a bag filled with more than $600,000 worth of heroin and methamphetamine into the country on a Delta flight from Mexico City. The plot was foiled after another employee discovered the bag on an unclaimed luggage carousel and alerted authorities.

Carlos Springer, 41, and Kelvin Rondon, 27, were both arrested last week on the charges, and Springer pleaded not guilty at a court hearing on Monday. But prosecutors said in court filings on Tuesday that Marroquin managed to elude authorities for days with the help of his pregnant girlfriend, Stephanie Baxter.

A confidential informant told agents that Baxter was helping Marroquin sell his motorcycle and other belongings so he could flee to Guatemala, and that she would soon follow with their unborn child. She was charged with aiding his escape late Monday after agents saw her attempt to load the bike onto a trailer, and they said they soon used her phone to track Marroquin to a house in Coral Springs, Fla. He was arrested there early Tuesday without incident.

Marroquin and Baxter couldn’t be reached for comment and their attorneys were not immediately identified.

Investigators zeroed in on the airline workers in January after a worker found an unclaimed piece of luggage stuffed with packages of methamphetamine and heroin from a flight that arrived in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport from Mexico City. Federal agents soon suspected the bag was smuggled in by corrupt employees, partly based on the large hand-written orange sticker on the outside of the bag, according to court records.

They tracked down Springer, who was a supervisor for Delta baggage workers on that shift, and found several coded text messages he sent to Marroquin shortly before the flight’s arrival. One of the messages expressed shock that they couldn’t find a missing bag shortly after the Delta flight arrived. Rondon was charged after he told investigators that Marroquin recruited him to act as a lookout.

The three men face sentences of up to life in prison and a fine that could reach $10 million.


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