A Torrance man was sentenced on Thursday to three months in federal prison for participating in a smuggling scheme in which backpacks of drugs were carried through an employee entrance at Los Angeles International Airport and onto eastbound flights.
Peter Contreras — the last of three men to be sentenced in the case — was also ordered to complete three years of supervised release following his prison term.
Contreras had faced up to five years behind bars, but U.S. District Judge Fernando M. Olguin found him less culpable than the co-defendants and gave him a reduced sentence for having played a “minor role” in the drug smuggling conspiracy.
The judge also apparently accepted defense arguments that Contreras had permanently changed and was “desperately seeking a second chance.”
Defense attorney Edward M. Robinson wrote that his client now “wants to provide the care and stability to his young children that he never received. At the same time, Mr. Contreras continues to support his mentally ill mother and care for his 11-year-old brother.”
U.S. Assistant Attorney Jennifer Williams said outside court that while it was clear that Contreras had taken “strides to rehabilitate himself, this type of crime is extremely dangerous.”
Contreras, now 27, and a co-conspirator met in May 2013 with a man they thought was a drug distributor — he was actually an undercover agent — who told them he was seeking to send about 11 pounds of cocaine to Boston.
The undercover officer paid Contreras $5,000 to transport a backpack containing what the defendant thought was five bricks of cocaine, but was actually a sham substance, to Boston aboard a Delta flight.
The following day, Ruben Mendoza — one of two ex-Delta baggage handlers convicted in the case — brought the backpack through an LAX employee entrance to avoid security screening.
Mendoza, while working as a baggage handler, then placed the backpack into a checked suitcase for the flight to Boston.
Mendoza, of Rialto, pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and was sentenced last year to 27 months in prison.
The second ex-Delta baggage handler, Ulysses Bluntson, of Los Angeles, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy and was sentenced in 2013 to a year behind bars.
Bluntson told investigators that he was paid $1,000 per bag and that he handled up to a dozen bags without being detected.
Contreras pleaded guilty a year ago to attempted distribution of a controlled substance.
A federal grand jury indictment charged Contreras, Bluntson and Mendoza with six felony counts, including conspiracy to distribute illegal drugs, conspiracy to enter restricted airport areas, distribution of heroin, and aiding and abetting.