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Pair to plead guilty in smuggling scheme involving TSA

A pair of suspected drug couriers has agreed to plead guilty in a case in which former Transportation Security Administration screeners accepted bribes in return for helping to smuggle marijuana onto planes departing from Los Angeles International Airport, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Charles Hicks, 24, of Culver City, and Andrew Welter, 25, of Fontana, have agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy, according to documents filed in federal district court. They are scheduled to be arraigned Aug. 13 and face up to five years in prison, federal prosecutors said.

The charges against Hicks and Welter are part of an ongoing investigation into the possible involvement of TSA officials in smuggling contraband.

According to their plea agreements, Hicks and Welter were accomplices of Millage Peaks IV, the son of a former Los Angeles fire chief. The court documents charge that Peaks would pay up to $500 for each piece of luggage containing marijuana that managed to circumvent the security screening.

Peaks worked with the knowledge and assistance of Dianna Perez and Randy Littlefield, former TSA employees. They have since been dismissed from the agency.

According to federal prosecutors, for almost a year between November 2010 and 2011, Perez used various schemes to help the drug smugglers evade security on nine separate trips.  She provided tips on how to pack marijuana so as not to activate the TSA’s system designed to detect explosives.

As previously reported by The Times, Peaks and Perez were arrested on bribery charges in October after a baggage handler smelled marijuana in luggage headed for a Boston-bound flight and alerted law enforcement. Authorities found 14 pounds of the contraband. The haul was estimated to be worth $38,000.

Peaks' father is Millage Peaks III, who was chief of the L.A. Fire Department until retiring last summer, and his sister is an officer with the Los Angeles Airport Police Department. She and the elder Peak told investigators they had no knowledge of the drug smuggling scheme, according to earlier Times reports.

U.S. attorney's office officials could not be reached Wednesday for comment, but the Associated Press reported that Peaks does not face charges. And charges that were initially leveled against the screeners were later dismissed without prejudice, allowing federal prosecutors the ability to refile charges.

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-- Ann M. Simmons

 
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