A 31-year-old man who police said tried to smuggle more than 50 pounds of marijuana in checked luggage pleaded not guilty to felony drug charges Friday.
Following his plea in Burbank Superior Court, Clarence Williams, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was taken to a Los Angeles County jail facility, where he is being held in lieu of $75,000 bail.
Bob Hope Airport on Wednesday night after one of his two suitcases triggered an alarm as it passed through screening devices, police said.
Transportation Security Administration agents checked the contents and discovered dozens of bags, each containing about one pound of a green, leafy substance that resembled marijuana, Burbank Police Sgt. Darin Ryburn said.
"Each bag was hermetically sealed so as to prevent the odor from escaping," he said.
Airport authorities checked airport logs and linked the suitcase to Williams, who was scheduled to depart for New York City. Airport police contacted Williams about 8 p.m., and he consented to a search of his carry-on bag.
During the search, JetBlue Airways clerks discovered that Williams had checked in two suitcases. Airport police located the second piece of luggage, which by that time had cleared security, and found several more hermetically sealed bags of marijuana, Ryburn said.
In all police seized 56 bags, each containing roughly one pound of marijuana, he said.
TSA officials said all belongings transported on aircraft are screened before takeoff. Agents flagged Williams' luggage for an undisclosed reason, but not because the suitcase might contain drugs, airport Police Chief Edward Skvarna said.
"Whatever it was that set the alarm off and required this bag to be pulled, it certainly wasn't marijuana," Skvarna said.
TSA agents and airport police routinely stop and arrest passengers trying to smuggle small amounts of drugs for personal use through security checkpoints, he said.
Cordozar Calvin "Snoop Dogg" Broadus was arrested three years ago at Bob Hope Airport on suspicion of transporting marijuana and a firearm.
He pleaded no contest in April 2007, and received a three-year suspended sentence and five years' probation.
He also had to preform 800 hours of community service.
Police last year arrested a 47-year-old woman who tried to transport more than 20 pounds of cocaine through a security checkpoint.
The luggage, including two shoulder bags, was flagged when agents grew suspicious that the bags might contain explosives, Skvarna said.
Officers regularly conduct operations with outside law enforcement agencies, he said, but smugglers and traffickers can be elusive.
"There are measures in effect to identify and detain suspected narcotic traffickers at the airport," he said.
"But I think that traffickers who use air transportation systems use a lot of airports, and they move around. They're pretty flexible, and Los Angeles has several airports to choose from."