The son of a former Los Angeles fire chief and an ex-Transportation Security Administration agent were handed prison sentences Monday for their roles in a smuggling ring that shipped marijuana-filled luggage on flights out of LAX.
U.S. District Judge Otis D. Wright II said Millage Peaks IV, 25 - whose father is a retired Los Angeles fire chief - was the "brains" behind the yearlong scheme in which co-defendant Randy Littlefield was bribed with as little as $200 to allow pot-filled suitcases onto Boston-bound planes.
Peaks was sentenced to a year in federal prison and ordered to pay a $6,000 fine. Wright also ordered him to serve three years of supervised probation after he leaves prison.
Littlefield was sentenced to eight months behind bars, and also ordered to serve three years of supervised release.
The judge said Peaks arranged at least 10 marijuana shipments out of Los Angeles International Airport, an enterprise made possible by bribing Littlefield and another ex-TSA agent, Dianna Perez.
Wright said Perez - who pleaded guilty to conspiracy but has yet to be sentenced - told Peaks how to pack the marijuana to circumvent bomb-sniffing dogs and other security measures at LAX, a fact which troubled the judge.
"Now there is information out there - out of control - that gives information on how to circumvent explosive checks," Wright said, adding that such details could be "quite valuable" to terrorists.
In arguing for a probationary sentence, Peaks' attorney, Nina Marino, said he devised the smuggling operation - which grossed more than $70,000 - to help his mother with mortgage payments on the family home. Marino also argued that Peaks was the primary caregiver for his ailing grandmother and so should remain free.
Prosecutors had recommended a prison sentence of almost two years, but Wright said the yearlong term was imposed "strictly out of concern" for the defendant's grandparent.
Ex-TSA agent Littlefield, 29, of Paramount, admitted taking $200 to allow pounds of marijuana to pass undetected through the LAX screening process on at least two occasions, as a favor to Perez.
Wright said Littlefield had been placed in "an extraordinarily important position of trust," but "for as little as $200 (was) made to turn and look the other way."
The judge also pointed out that Littlefield never verified for himself exactly what the suitcases contained.
TSA agents, the judge said, are given unique positions of trust.
"So much is entrusted to (these) individuals," Wright said. "For TSA employees to be able to be bought for so little is frightening."
Wright, for his part, said he was only "trying to do a friend a favor" by allowing the luggage through.
"I did something foolish - and lost everything ... over a mistake I made (for) two hundred dollars," Littlefield said.
In court papers, Peaks acknowledged promising to pay $500 to Perez for each pot-filled suitcase that cleared security checkpoints at LAX from November 2010 to October 2011.
Perez admitted in her plea agreement to using her position and knowledge of LAX procedures to get the pot onto Boston-bound planes on nine occasions in exchange for cash. Her sentencing date has not been set.
Admitted pot couriers Andrew "Drew" Welter, 25, of Fontana and Charles "Smoke" Hicks, 24, of Culver City also pleaded guilty in the case and are set to be sentenced by Wright on Jan. 28.