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Junk in trunk: Flier charged in gift-wrapped heroin bust

LOS ANGELES — A passenger flying from Los Angeles International Airport to Ohio last month wasn't toying around when he checked a bag with packages gift wrapped in Christmas paper, authorities said.

The Yuletide bundle included 13 pounds of heroin with a street value of more than $2 million, federal prosecutors said Tuesday as the man was charged with drug trafficking.

James Mitchell, 25, who worked for a private contractor at the airport, checked a duffel bag Dec. 10 for a Frontier Airlines flight to Cincinnati, but neither he nor the bag made the trip, according to court records.

The bag was intercepted by a Transportation Security Administration officer who detected dense material during a scan and found the gift-wrapped cache of heroin inside.

The incident shut down a section of Terminal 3 when the officer detected a vinegar-like odor and hazardous materials team had to assess it for a chemical threat.

When airport police tried to track down Mitchell, they found he had not caught the flight. An airlines representative then called him to collect his bag and Mitchell said he was in a restroom and feeling ill, according to federal prosecutors.

Surveillance cameras later showed Mitchell walking out of the terminal around that time. He removed a Raiders football beanie from his head and exchanged a black and gray sweater with the letters “RCKLSS” on it for a green top and left the airport on foot.

Mitchell was arrested more than a week later at his home and remains in custody. He could face a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison if convicted.

Defense lawyer Walter Urban wouldn't comment on the case, but he said Mitchell would plead not guilty.

Mitchell had worked for Aero Port Services Inc., a company that provides porter, wheelchair and security services at LAX, according to its website.

He was terminated, said Iliana Thomas, a company representative who wouldn't say what job he held.

The case is one of several in recent years against airport and airline employees caught trying to smuggle contraband through LAX.

His arrest came about a week after a former JetBlue flight attendant pleaded guilty to trying to smuggle a suitcase loaded with 60 pounds of cocaine on a cross-country flight from LA.

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