Lost Bag Leads to Major Drug Bust

A multi-state drug ring that had operated for more than a decade was busted after a piece of luggage got lost, federal authorities say.

Twenty-two people allegedly conspired to fly cocaine from California to Pittsburgh while avoiding airport security measures.

But when a drug-filled bag was mistakenly unloaded from a Southwest Airlines plane during a layover the whole plot began to unravel.

The U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh made public a federal grand jury indictment against Timothy White of Tracy, Calif., who authorities say used couriers to fly from California to Pittsburgh with the cocaine and return with the money from the drug sales.

Another man, Ruben Mitchell, of Stockton, Calif., had more than 40 pounds of cocaine in his carry-on luggage when he boarded the Southwest flight to Pittsburgh on Feb. 19, 2009.

The bag wouldn't fit into the overhead luggage bin, and a flight attendant took it away and had it put in the plane's cargo hold instead. When the plane made a stopover in Las Vegas, the bag was mistakenly unloaded.

Mitchell arrived in Pittsburgh, discovered his bag was missing and filed a lost-baggage claim.

Authorities did not say at what point the contents of the bag were uncovered. About a year later, federal agencies executed search warrants at homes in California and the Pittsburgh area.

White and Mitchell are both in custody, and 15 other people have been arrested and freed on bond. Five remain at large. Of the defendants, 21 face life in prison and one faces a 20-year sentence.

Photo, leonardjohnmatthews, flickr
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