NEW YORK/ATLANTA (REUTERS) - A Delta Air Lines baggage handler has been charged with helping another former employee of the airline smuggle 18 handguns onto a flight from Atlanta to New York City, in a scheme that prosecutors said ran for years and also involved assault weapons.
Delta baggage handler Eugene Harvey, 31, has been charged with helping former Delta employee, Mark Quentin Henry, avoid detection of the guns by airport security on Dec 10 before Henry boarded a passenger jet with the firearms in a carry-on bag, court records show.
Henry and Harvey are among five people nabbed by federal agents in a ring that has been smuggling guns aboard passenger planes from Atlanta to New York in the US for "at least five years", said Kenneth Thompson, a district attorney for New York's borough of Brooklyn, whose office worked on the investigation.
Henry was arrested after arriving in New York, and federal agents took Harvey into custody at his Atlanta-area home on Dec. 20, Federal Bureau of Investigation spokesman Stephen Emmett said on Tuesday.
Harvey, who made his initial court appearance in Atlanta on Monday, is charged with firearms trafficking and illegally entering a secured airport area, the complaint said. He has been fired from his job, Delta Air Lines Inc spokesman Morgan Durrant said on Tuesday.
"Delta is cooperating with authorities in this investigation," Durrant said. "We take seriously any activity that fails to uphold our strict commitment to the safety and security of our customers and employees."
Henry was charged with criminal possession and sale of firearms as part of an investigation by the New York City police, according to court records.
Federal officials accused Henry of supplying a co-conspirator with 129 weapons, including two assault rifles, from Georgia between May and December. The guns were sold to a New York City undercover officer, investigators said.
At a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Thompson named three others involved in the ring, including a woman, who have also been indicted in connection with the firearms trafficking conspiracy.
Thompson showed reporters more than a dozen weapons he said were smuggled by Henry, including an AK-47 with its stock removed, in a scheme he said New York police found "deeply troubling" as the weapons could have easily been "bombs".
"Henry brought this gun on a commercial airliner to New York," he said. "This weapon can shoot through a car door."
Henry's cell phone showed that he called and texted Harvey before boarding the Dec. 10 flight from Atlanta to New York's John F Kennedy International Airport with handguns and ammunition in his carry-on bag, federal officials said.
Security video showed Henry passing through airport security in Atlanta with a backpack, but officials do not believe the guns were inside the bag at the time.
Video footage later showed the two men entering and leaving the same airport bathroom.
Thompson said agents had found 150 firearms at Henry's home.
Undercover agents made 43 purchases from Henry in 6 months, Thompson said. He also travelled to other countries, he said, and the investigation is ongoing.