Marsha Gay Reynolds, a former Jamaican beauty queen and college track athlete, turned herself in Wednesday to face a federal drug charge.
Authorities said they found 70 pounds of cocaine in her luggage at LAX on March 18 after she was flagged for a random security screening, flung off her high heels and bolted barefoot down an upward-moving escalator. They said she ran out of the terminal and crossed the country to New York.
Reynolds’ spokesman Allan Jennings, representing her family and her defense lawyer, said, “She may not have been fully aware of what was in the bags.”
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Alicia Washington told a court that last week was “not the only time the defendant has engaged in this conduct.” Washington didn’t elaborate, and Jennings said he was surprised by the claim.
A U.S. magistrate judge set bail for Reynolds at $500,000 and then warned her parents and two friends from her church they could lose their homes if she flees. He gave prosecutors a day to appeal before Reynolds can be freed.
Reynolds, a 31-year-old Jamaican-born U.S. citizen, graduated from New York University and ran track there. She was a runner-up in the Miss Jamaica World 2008 pageant, which sends the country’s representative to Miss World contests.
Leaders of the Jamaica pageant were “shocked and surprised” at news of Reynolds’ arrest, said organizer Laura Butler, who doesn’t know Reynolds. She said Reynolds apparently had traveled to Jamaica to compete while living in New York, as the contest allows for women of Jamaican heritage living elsewhere.
Reynolds arrived last week at a security checkpoint in LAX’s Terminal 4 wearing jeans, heels and a black suit jacket and carrying her known crew member badge, an FBI agent’s sworn statement said. She was off duty at the time.
Asked to step aside for a random check, Reynolds nervously looked around and made a cellphone call as she was led to a screening area, the statement said. When a Transportation Security Administration officer asked her for identification, she dropper her bag, ditched her Gucci shoes and took off, an affidavit said. A TSA officer said he didn’t pursue her because his primary concern was her abandoned luggage.
In it was just over 68 pounds of cocaine, worth as much as $3 million on the streets of Los Angeles, authorities said.
JetBlue Airways Corp., which suspended Reynolds, said it was cooperating with the investigation.
Prosecutors said Reynolds “took advantage of her position as a crew member” and “abused the trust” she had. If convicted, Reynolds could face at least 10 years in prison, prosecutors said.
The TSA has been concerned about security threats from insiders, including airline and airport employees, particularly after several baggage handlers were arrested in December 2014 on charges of smuggling guns from Atlanta to New York.
The TSA has said it would be too expensive to screen all employees fully. Instead, it has urged airports to increase random screenings of workers and to keep background checks up to date.
Myers reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report. Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/amanda-lee-myers .