On Tuesday, six men accused in an elaborate drug smuggling scheme at the San Diego International Airport appeared in federal court.
All six defendants pleaded not guilty. Four of them work at Lindbergh Field.
Federal prosecutors focused on one of the suspects, 22-year-old Sergio Mejia-Gambo. Prosecutors say he was the main drug supplier and worked with the Knights Templar drug cartel in Mexico.
According to prosecutors, Mejia-Gambo worked with baggage carriers who used their badges to walk through security wearing backpacks filled with drugs. They allegedly handed those backpacks to couriers, ticketed passengers who had already gone through security. The handoffs reportedly took place underneath the walls of bathroom stalls.
The couriers would then board flights to cities across the country.
The prosecution says Mejia-Gambo traveled to Mexico six times in the last year to get cocaine and methamphetamine.
The defense says Mejia-Gambo was born and raised in the U.S. and was planning to open a yogurt shop. He faces 10 years in prison if convicted.
The other defendants are David Camacho, Jesus Morales, Israel Acosta, Brian Alberto Gonzalez and Felix Samuel Garcia. They will have detention hearings within the next few weeks.
Garcia’s lawyer told NBC 7 that his client is innocent.
“My understanding is that about a year ago or so, somebody was arrested at the airport with a lot of drugs and money. And that person was cooperating and other baggage handlers got involved and he got caught up in this big net,” Attorney Michael Littman said.
Court records show Garcia was accused of having sex with a 14-year-old girl and lying to a peace officer in 2003. He pleaded guilty to one felony count and was sentenced to three years of probation.
The new drug allegations beg the question, how could something like this happen at an airport?
“This case is very significant. It shows a problem we have at the airport that were now addressing,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat.
“These people have background checks that they go through. Despite their background checks and lack of criminal record, they were able to use their positions and abuse their positions to breach their security,” Wheat said.
Four of the men are employed by Delta Global Services, which is owned by Delta Air Lines. The company declined to comment on how it screens potential employees and if it will change those procedures in light of these arrests.
Delta told NBC 7 only that "Delta is cooperating with local law enforcement in the investigation.”