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Airline baggage handlers brought guns, drugs on flight, U.S. officials say

By JIM ELLIS, Associated Press Writer
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ORLANDO, Florida — Two airline baggage handlers used their employee uniforms and identification cards to carry a duffel bag loaded with guns and drugs into a plane's passenger cabin, bypassing security screeners, according to court documents.

A tip led authorities to investigate the men aboard the Delta flight headed for Puerto Rico on Monday afternoon, said Carlos Baixauli, a special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Christopher White, a spokesman for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, said passengers were not in danger. He declined to address the security breach.

Thomas Anthony Munoz, 22, was arrested when he got off the plane at the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan. Authorities found 13 handguns, one assault rifle and eight clear bags containing a total of 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms) of marijuana in his duffel bag, Baixauli said.

Zabdiel J. Santiago Balaguer was arrested late Tuesday. The men, both U.S. residents, were charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana and possessing firearms in interstate commerce during a drug trafficking offense, court documents said.

Munoz and Balaguer worked for Comair, a subsidiary of Delta. Both passed federal background checks before employment, said Kate Marx, Comair spokeswoman. Both men have been suspended from their jobs pending the investigation, Marx said.

Balaguer delivered guns and drugs to Puerto Rico several times himself and offered to pay Munoz as much as $5,000 (euro3,806) to make the delivery to Puerto Rico, according to court documents. A contact in Puerto Rico had wired more than $1,800 (euro1,370) to Balaguer last week, which was used to buy the guns and drugs, according to a federal agent's affidavit.

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

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