AZ airline passengers busted for packing drugs into their checked luggage

PHOENIX - Four people are in police custody in Saginaw, MI, accused of smuggling drugs from Phoenix in their checked luggage on a Delta Airlines flight.

According to Saginaw police Chief Gerald Cliff, the arrests happened Monday afternoon at Flint's Bishop International Airport , when investigators discovered more than 120 pounds of marijuana stuffed inside four American Tourister suitcases.

Members of the airport police department and the Flint Area Narcotics Group also assisted with the bust.

"This is one of three or four large shipments coming from the southwestern United States in the last thirteen months," Cliff said, explaining that the Saginaw Police Department had recently intercepted approximately 800 pounds of smuggled drugs from other southwestern states, including Arizona and Texas.

The drugs had been vacuum-sealed, wrapped in sheets, and packed with dryer sheets, when detectives arrested the two men and two women.  Cliff said he would not identify the suspects until they had been arraigned in court.

Two of the suspects had traveled to Arizona on Friday, he said.  They returned to the Flint airport on Monday.  Detectives waited for them to retrieve their luggage from the carousel and meet with another couple before they made the arrest.

Based on intelligence developed by a Saginaw Police Department special operations unit, the drugs were intended for distribution in the Saginaw area, he said.

Cliff said the investigation is ongoing, as they continue to investigate whether the suspects are part of a larger smuggling operation.  He would not say whether his detectives are working with another agency based in Arizona.

TSA'S ROLE AT THE AIRPORT

According to the Transportation Security Administration, TSA workers do not proactively search for drugs in checked luggage. 

"It is not something we are responsible for," said Nico Melendez, a TSA spokesperson, explaining how workers mainly search for explosive materials.  If TSA officials find drugs in baggage, they do alert the proper authorities, he said. 

That may include the Phoenix Police Department or the Drug Enforcement Administration.

DEA'S ROLE AT THE AIRPORT

DEA spokeswoman, Ramona Sanchez said the DEA does work with the Phoenix Police Department on various cases at the airport.

"It's not like we're there everyday searching bags," she said.  "Our resources are limited, but we do have a presence at the airport when we need to," she added, explaining that many DEA investigations are not publicly known.

"Just because you didn't hear about it, doesn't mean it's not going on," she said.

PHOENIX POLICE DEPARTMENT'S ROLE AT THE AIRPORT

A DEA agent does work with the Phoenix Police Department's Commercial Narcotics Interdiction Squad, according to Phoenix Police Department spokesman, James Holmes.

The squad also includes seven detectives and three dogs.  Holmes said the special unit was not aware of the Michigan bust before it happened.

"They never gave us an opportunity to help them out," he said.

Holmes said the Commercial Narcotics Interdiction Squad confiscated nearly 2,000 lbs of marijuana at the airport and nearly $3.4 million in cash related to drug crimes in the last year.

The squad handles cases and tracks suspects when outside agencies contact them for help.  Many cases come from confidential informants as well, said Holmes.

Holmes said the Phoenix Police Department's primary role at the airport is security.  Most often, the dogs sniffing baggage at the airport are searching for explosives. 

However, he said, drug-sniffing dogs will do random checks.

"We're not going to be able to stop it all," he said.

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