Written by The Business Journal Staff
(AP) — A JetBlue flight attendant accused of using her credentials to get 70 pounds of cocaine through airport security in Los Angeles before flinging off her heels and fleeing has been arrested in New York.
Marsha Gay Reynolds surrendered Wednesday to federal authorities at John F. Kennedy International Airport, though it wasn’t immediately clear how she reached New York, federal officials said.
Reynolds, a 31-year-old New York resident, was expected to be in federal court in Brooklyn on Thursday, according to U.S. attorney’s spokesman Thom Mrozek.
Transportation Security Administration officials asked Reynolds to step aside for a random security screening Friday, authorities said. Reynolds went to a secondary screening area but quickly dropped her bag, ditched a pair of Gucci heels and fled barefoot downward on an upward-moving escalator, Marshall McClain, president of the union representing LAX airport police officers, said Monday.
Reynolds was charged with cocaine possession with intent to distribute, punishable by 10 years to life in prison. It was unclear if she had an attorney.
Mrozek said prosecutors believe reports that Reynolds was a runner-up in Miss Jamaica World 2008. New York University lists a Marsha-Gay Reynolds as having been on the school’s 2004 women’s track and field team, though it wasn’t immediately clear if that was the same Reynolds arrested Wednesday.
On Friday, Reynolds arrived at an LAX checkpoint in Terminal 4 wearing jeans, heels and a black suit jacket, carrying her “known crew member badge,” according to an FBI affidavit in support of the charge against Reynolds. It wasn’t immediately clear whether she was on duty at the time.
When Reynolds was chosen for a random security screening, TSA Officer Jamie Samuel said the flight attendant became nervous and began looking around before pulling out her cellphone and making a call, according to the affidavit.
Samuel reported that the flight attendant was talking on the phone in a foreign language as she was being taken to a secondary screening area, the affidavit says.
Once in the secondary screening area, TSA Officer Charles James asked for her identification.
“At this time, Reynolds dropped her carry-on luggage, removed her shoes and began to run away,” according to the affidavit.
James saw Reynolds run down an upward-moving escalator and out of the terminal, the affidavit says, adding that the officer didn’t pursue her because her abandoned luggage was his main concern.
LAX police soon after found 11 packages of cocaine wrapped in green cellophane and labeled, “BIG Ranch” inside one of the bags the flight attendant had left behind, the affidavit says.
The cocaine weighed just over 68 pounds. Wholesale, the drugs would be worth about $750,000 in Los Angeles, said Special Agent Timothy Massino, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
On the streets of Los Angeles, Massino said the retail value of the cocaine could be as high as $3 million.
JetBlue spokeswoman Sharon Jones said in a statement that the airline was cooperating with the investigation. She declined to comment further and did not respond to a question about how long Reynolds has worked for the airline.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said the nation’s security “depends on every individual with security clearances to honor the trust placed in them.”
“The defendant’s conduct violated that trust and, in the process, exposed the public to a major narcotics transaction and the dangers inherent to such a transaction,” she said.
Security threats from “insiders,” including airline and airport employees and workers hired by contractors, have been a focus of the TSA, particularly after the December 2014 arrest of several Delta Air Lines baggage handlers. Prosecutors allege they smuggled guns, including an AK-47, from Atlanta to New York.
The TSA has said that full screening of all employees would cost too much. Instead, the agency has urged airports to increase random screenings of workers and to keep background checks up to date.
“We will pay particular attention to the insider threat,” TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger told a Senate committee earlier this month.