LOS ANGELES – A former airport baggage crew supervisor was sentenced Friday to two weeks in federal prison and 18 months in home detention for using his credentials to help smuggle cocaine through high-security areas of LAX as part of a drug ring.
Alberto Gutierrez, 29, previously faced a five-year mandatory prison sentence on the charge of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, but recent federal legislation changes to mandatory minimums allowed for a more lenient outcome.
U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. said from the bench that Gutierrez was “one of the luckiest people I’ve seen in here.”
The judge also ordered Gutierrez to serve four years under supervised release following jail and attend an alcohol abuse treatment program. The government had asked for a 41-month sentence.
“I made a mistake and I’m remorseful every day I wake up,” Gutierrez told the court. “I know I made a mistake and I’m here to correct it.”
Gutierrez will surrender on Nov. 22 to begin his sentence and will spend Thanksgiving behind bars.
One of three ex-baggage handlers charged in the case, Gutierrez pleaded guilty last year to participating in the scheme to help drug couriers smuggle cocaine through Los Angeles International Airport aboard commercial flights for delivery to customers on the East Coast. At the time of his arrest three years ago, Gutierrez was a supervisory baggage handler employed by Swissport International at LAX.
Authorities seized more than two pounds of cocaine from Gutierrez on Dec. 16, 2015, in a Terminal 3 restroom at LAX, where he was trying to pass the drugs to a man planning to fly to New York on a JetBlue flight, according to papers filed in Los Angeles federal court.
Co-defendant Adrian Ponce, 31, who was waiting for Gutierrez in a vehicle outside the terminal, was interviewed the next day and admitted that the pair took part in similar transactions on multiple occasions, according to prosecutors. Ponce, considered the leader of the trio, pleaded guilty to the federal conspiracy charge last year and was sentenced to 18 months behind bars.
Antonio Botello, 25, was the last of the three defendants to plead guilty. He was sentenced in May to a week behind bars and supervised release for four years, during which time he will serve 15 months in home confinement. The judge explained his sentencing by saying that Botello was deserving of a “strong, strong benefit of the doubt.”
As for Gutierrez, the judge reminded him Friday, “I’m giving you a big break, I hope you understand it. Just don’t cross me.”