Feds: Flight attendant left 68 pounds of cocaine at LAX checkpoint

Feds: Flight attendant had 68 pounds of cocaine
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Story highlights

  • A judge sets a $500,000 bond for Marsha Gay Reynolds
  • She is charged with leaving 68 pounds of cocaine at LAX checkpoint
  • It's believed Reynolds is a former beauty pageant contestant, NYU track athlete, feds say

(CNN)A JetBlue flight attendant who is accused of leaving 68 pounds of cocaine at a Los Angeles International Airport security checkpoint made her first appearance in a Brooklyn federal court Thursday afternoon.

Marsha Gay Reynolds, 31, who authorities believe may be a former collegiate track athlete and Jamaican beauty pageant contestant, was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to distribute after she allegedly used her Known Crewmember credentials at a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint last Friday, according to a criminal complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
A judge ordered a $500,000 bond, apparently to be co-signed by her parents, a church pastor and a friend. The order was stayed for 24 hours in case an appeal is filed. Reynolds, who is due back in court Friday, would be subject to home confinement and electronic monitoring, with travel restrictions.
    Authorities allege the Queens, New York, resident dropped two cocaine-filled carry-on bags en route to a secondary screening point, kicked off her shoes -- Gucci heels, according to an official close to the investigation -- and fled TSA agents, who did not give chase because they feared her bags contained an explosive device.
    Investigators believe she then flew from New York to Los Angeles the following day, said Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California, which filed the charges against Reynolds. Mrozek was unable to confirm which airlines and airports she may have used.
    Asked how Reynolds could have boarded a plane after fleeing a security checkpoint the day before, TSA spokesman Bruce Anderson said only, "This incident is under investigation and DEA has the lead. I need to ask you to contact them."
    Reached by phone Thursday, a DEA official confirmed the agency was involved in the investigation but wouldn't comment further.

    Less scrutiny for crew

    Typically, crew members are exempt from the security screening that normal passengers undergo, but Reynolds was randomly selected for secondary screening, according to an affidavit accompanying the complaint.
    The Known Crewmember program website says the TSA makes no distinction whether a crew member is traveling for business or pleasure, and non-uniformed crew can be randomly selected for screening. Reynolds was wearing a black suit jacket and jeans, according to an affidavit.
    "We are cooperating with authorities on their investigation," said JetBlue spokeswoman Sharon Jones. She declined to confirm whether Reynolds flew or worked on any JetBlue flights from Los Angeles to New York.
    Reynolds approached a security checkpoint at a terminal in the Los Angeles airport Friday evening with two carry-ons and a "large duffel-sized purse" in tow, according to an affidavit. The Known Crewmember terminal randomly selected Reynolds for secondary screening, and a TSA agent called a security officer to respond.
    "At this time, [the TSA agent] noticed that Reynolds became nervous and began looking around. Reynolds then retrieved a cell phone from her purse and made a phone call. The call took place in a foreign language," the affidavit said.

    Mad dash

    When the security officer arrived and attempted to escort Reynolds to the screening area, he noticed she was not following closely enough, the affidavit said. He instructed Reynolds, who was still on her phone, to follow more closely, which is standard TSA procedure. When they arrived at the screening area, the security office requested her ID and credentials again.
    "At this time, Reynolds dropped her carry-on luggage, removed her shoes and began to run away," the affidavit said, adding that the officer watched her "run down an upward-traveling escalator then out of Terminal 4."
    Two bomb dogs responded, and once it was determined the luggage was safe, agents opened the carry-ons and found 11 green cellophane packages stamped "BIG Ranch." Each package contained yellow or white envelopes with a collective 68.5 pounds of cocaine inside.
    Reynolds surrendered Wednesday to agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration in New York, DEA spokesman Timothy Massino said Wednesday. He said no further information would be released because the investigation remains active.
    Mrozek with the U.S. Attorney's Office said authorities believe that Reynolds is a former Miss Jamaica World contestant, and investigators have been reviewing entries on a Facebook page belonging to a Marsha Gay Reynolds who attended New York University.

    Beauty pageant contestant?

    NYU spokesman James DeVitt said Reynolds attended the university and competed on its track team in 2004. She graduated, he said, but he was unable to confirm a year. The NYU Athletics website lists a sprinter named "Marsha-Gay Reynolds," a junior who hailed from Jamaica, as a member of its 2004 track team.
    It was widely reported in the Jamaican press that a Marsha Gay Reynolds competed in the Miss Jamaica World pageant, finishing as second runner-up in 2008. A representative of the pageant said she "heard" Reynolds traveled to enter the competition, placed third and then returned to New York.
    "We believe strongly in being good citizens and ambassadors. We do not tolerate this kind of behavior. We believe in creating opportunity through education and trying to improve our young women lives through honest living and hard work. Being a person of integrity is extremely important," Laura Butler said.
    If convicted, Reynolds faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum penalty of life.