The New York Times
NEWARK, June 11 - A baggage handler at Newark Liberty International
Airport smuggled at least 18 handguns on flights from Alabama to New
Jersey, where he sold them to criminals, the authorities said today.
The man, Antonio Marquette Lewis, 30, an American Airlines employee,
was arrested at the airport on Monday and charged with violating
federal firearms laws, said James R. Needles, assistant special agent
in charge at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in New York.
The authorities say that between June and September 2002, Mr. Lewis
went to a Selma, Ala., pawn shop and used an Alabama driver's license
with a relative's address to buy at least 12 handguns. Two other men
bought at least 6 guns for Mr. Lewis in the same period, Mr. Needles
The smuggling took place months before a federal law went into effect
on Jan. 1, 2003, requiring transportation officials to search all
bags by hand, Mr. Needles said. "He was a baggage handler and knew
how the system worked, so he was able to do this," he said.
Prosecutors say Mr. Lewis filed off the guns' serial numbers and
resold them to convicted felons and drug dealers who could not
ordinarily buy guns in New Jersey.
A spokesman for American Airlines would not comment on the specifics
of the case, but said Mr. Lewis had been suspended without pay
pending the results of an internal investigation.
Mr. Lewis appeared before a federal magistrate here on Tuesday and
was released on $100,000 bail and ordered to wear an electronic
monitoring device. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000
fine if convicted. Prosecutors said they did not know whether he had
The police in Jersey City, where Mr. Lewis lives, began investigating
the case late last year when they arrested two men who had some of
the smuggled firearms. The authorities traced the defaced serial
numbers back to Alabama and Mr. Lewis's accomplices, said the Hudson
County prosecutor, Edward J. DeFazio. "He was getting a premium price
on the street for the weapons and contributing to the criminal stream
of commerce in New Jersey," said Mr. DeFazio, who noted that Mr.
Lewis had no prior criminal record.
Mr. DeFazio said his office was looking into whether any of the
weapons had been used to commit crimes. Mr. Lewis had no prior
criminal record, he said.
Mr. Needles said that two handguns, roughly 1,500 rounds of
ammunition and driver's licenses from New Jersey, Alabama and
Tennessee had been found in Mr. Lewis's apartment. He said that no
one else had been charged in the smuggling and that the investigation
was continuing in all three states.