TSA agents have a pretty important job. They work hard to keep air travel safe and prevent people from smuggling dangerous and illegal materials on board. Due to the nature of their job, TSA agents are given access to materials and areas that most regular people are not.
When TSA agents use these benefits to engage in illegal acts, though, they are just as subject to the law as the rest of us. This is the lesson that nine TSA agents learned last month when they were arrested for using their badges to travel throughout North Carolina to operate a drug trafficking ring.
A Badge Is a Free Pass
The investigation into the TSA agents started with Jamie Blunder. Last December, Blunder was pulled over for speeding. He tried to use his status as a TSA agent and his Homeland Security ID card to get out of any charges or consequences.
Law enforcement thought his behavior was fishy, and looked into his criminal past. They discovered that Blunder had been charged with trafficking cocaine in 2008, but the charges were later dropped. Because of this information, the officers began a more formal investigation.
The investigation revealed that Blunder had been traveling from Charlotte to Greensboro in order to operate a narcotics trafficking ring. He was moving multiple drugs, including cocaine and marijuana.
There is solid evidence that the ring had been in operation since at least December 2015, but officials believe the ring operated for even longer – over three years. The trafficking took place in Greensboro, Jamestown, and High Point, and Blunder used his badge to get to each of these locations and avoid any confrontations with law enforcement.
After Blunder’s actions kick-started the investigation, it was discovered that some of his coworkers were also involved in the drug trafficking ring. Eight TSA agents in total have been arrested, and a ninth suspect is currently wanted for arrest.
The Involvement of a Federal Organization Means Federal Drug Trafficking Penalties
Blunder was charged on counts of “conspiracy and attempt to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute Schedule I and Schedule II controlled substances” as well as “distribution of controlled substances and possession with the intent to distribute Schedule I and Schedule II controlled substances.” In their searches, law enforcement found over two kilograms of cocaine, multiple firearms, and $150,000 in cash.
Blunder pled not guilty when he appeared in court at the end of November. He faces additional trial dates in early December.
Since the TSA is a federal organization, Blunder was brought to district court and faces federal charges – and federal penalties. These penalties are based on the amount of drugs that were involved in the crimes, but all convictions come with mandatory minimum jail sentences.
When it comes to cocaine, trafficking or possession with the intent to traffic has penalties of at least five years in federal prison, but not more than 40, for up to 5 kilograms. If at least 5 kilograms of cocaine is involved, the mandatory minimum is bumped up to 10 years in prison, but not more than a life sentence. If the prosecution can prove that the trafficking ring caused death or serious bodily injury, the mandatory minimum is bumped up to 20 years in prison no matter how much cocaine was involved.
Blunder’s previous felony cocaine charge may also play a big part in his sentence if he is found guilty.
State Drug Trafficking Penalties for North Carolina
Maybe you are in a similar situation to Blunder, but you don’t have the TSA badge to make your case a news headline, and the federal government has decided to keep its hands off of you.
If you are charged in state court for drug possession or trafficking, you still face harsh consequences. Trafficking over 400 grams of cocaine, for example, is considered a Class D felony in North Carolina. There is a 38-160 month prison sentence attached, 12 months of required post-release supervision, and a maximum fine of $250,000 imposed on Class D felonies.
Bottom line? Whether you are charged at the state or federal level, trafficking large amounts of drugs means that you face jail time.
There is, however, a possibility of getting your charges dropped. After all, it happened to Jamie Blunder in 2008. You need skill and expertise on your side, though. If you have been charged, it is in your best interest to contact a North Carolina defense lawyer with experience in drug crimes and trafficking cases immediately so that you can get to work crafting the best possible strategy.
About the Author:
Jan Elliott Pritchett is Managing Partner at the Law Firm of Schlosser & Pritchett and one of North Carolina’s top rated criminal defense attorneys. With a practice dedicated 100% to litigation, Mr. Pritchett protects the legal rights of clients who have been charged in federal and state criminal matters, as well as DUI/DWi, motor vehicle accidents, personal injury, and traffic violations. In practice since 1995, Mr. Pritchett has earned a reputation as a highly talented and fearless lawyer, being listed among the state’s “Legal Elite” and recognized as one of the Top 100 DWI Lawyers in North Carolina by the National Advocacy of DUI Defense. He currently serves as the Co-Chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Legal Specialization, Criminal Law Specialty, and Vice-Chairman of the North Carolina Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section.