Feds: Men Brought Drugs, Guns on Plane

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 8, 2007; 6:03 AM

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Two baggage handlers carried a bag containing guns and drugs on a commercial flight from Florida to Puerto Rico, but passengers were in no danger, a Transportation Security Administration spokesman said.

The baggage handlers used their employee uniforms and airport identification cards to enter restricted areas, bypass screeners with the bag and board the commercial Delta flight, according to court documents released Wednesday.

Transportation Security Administration spokesman Christopher White said passengers were in no danger but declined to address the security breach.

The Orlando Police Department received a tip from an anonymous person that led authorities to investigate the men, said Carlos Baixauli, a Miami-based special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Security screeners questioned Zabdiel J. Santiago Balaguer when he was taken off the plane Monday, but court documents said he was released when no weapons or drugs were found on him.

Thomas Anthony Munoz, 22, was arrested in San Juan when he got off the plane at the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport. Inside the duffel bag he was carrying, authorities found 13 handguns, one assault rifle and eight clear bags containing a total of 8 pounds of marijuana, Baixauli said.

Balaguer was arrested late Tuesday. Munoz and Balaguer were charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and possessing firearms in interstate commerce during a drug trafficking offense, court documents said.

Balaguer allegedly acted as a middle man between Munoz and a connection in Puerto Rico as part of a weapons and drugs scheme, authorities said.

Balaguer delivered guns and drugs to Puerto Rico several times himself and offered to pay Munoz as much as $5,000 to make the delivery to Puerto Rico, court documents assert. The contact in Puerto Rico had wired more than $1,800 to Balaguer last week, which was used to buy the guns and drugs, according to a federal agent's affidavit.

Balaguer remained in custody Wednesday. It was not clear when Munoz would be transported to the U.S. It also was not known if the connection in Puerto Rico was in custody.

Stephen Langs, the public defender representing Balaguer, declined comment. It was not clear if Munoz had an attorney.

Munoz and Balaguer worked for Comair, an Erlanger, Ky.-based subsidiary of Delta. Both passed federal background checks before employment, Comair spokeswoman Kate Marx said.

Both men have been suspended from their jobs pending the investigation, Marx said.

© 2007 The Associated Press