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TSA worker accused of helping suspected pot trafficker

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • TSA employee charged with interfering with security measures
  • She pleaded not guilty to the charges
  • A New York man is accused of engaging in a criminal enterprise

(CNN) -- A Transportation Security Administration employee in Buffalo, New York, was arrested and charged with helping a suspected marijuana trafficker get through security, federal authorities said Tuesday.

Minnetta Walker, 43, a TSA behavioral detection officer, and Derek Frank, 30, of Amherst, New York, who faces drug charges, pleaded not guilty before a federal magistrate, CNN Buffalo affiliate WIVB reported. Neither had an attorney.

According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Buffalo, Walker was charged with conspiring to defraud the United States by interfering with and obstructing the security measures, procedures and requirements at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, and with "aiding and abetting another individual in entering an aircraft and airport area in violation of federal security requirements."

The conspiracy charge against Walker carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both, while the violation of federal security requirements carries a penalty of up to one year in prison, a fine of $100,000 or both.

An affidavit filed by a special agent with the FBI says Walker allowed several people to bypass normal security measures at the airport. It said she helped them avoid a body image scanner, which can detect items carried by a person, and random secondary screenings. It also says she may have alerted an individual to surveillance being conducted by federal law enforcement officers.

One of those airline passengers was identified as Frank.

According to another affidavit filed by a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent, Frank heads a large marijuana distribution organization and would travel from Buffalo to Arizona to make purchases, which would be shipped east.

Frank is charged with engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, possession with intent to distribute, and the distribution of 100 kilograms (220 pounds) or more of marijuana and conspiracy. If convicted, he faces a mandatory term of 20 years in prison, a fine of $2 million or both, according to the U.S. attorney.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Catherine Baumgarten said Walker was identified during an ongoing wiretap operation.

Walker assisted Frank several times in evasion of security measures, according to the complaint. That allegedly included directing Frank away from a scanner that can detect bulk cash and preventing scrutiny of his travel documents and identification.