A plot by three workers at Atlanta's airport to smuggle a bag filled with heroin and methamphetamine into the U.S. was foiled when the baggage ended up on an unclaimed luggage carousel, prosecutors said Thursday.

The workers were charged conspiring to smuggle more than $500,000 worth of the drugs into the country on a Delta Air Lines flight in January from Mexico City after another employee discovered the drug-laden bag on the carousel. Prosecutors said the three sent frantic coded text messages to each other trying to find the bag before realizing it was too late.

Carlos Springer, 41, and Kelvin Rondon, 27, were both arrested this week on the charges. A third man, Luis Marroquin, remains a fugitive. It's unclear if the men have an attorney, and calls to their phones went unanswered.

"We will continue to work with airline security teams and our law enforcement partners to prosecute those who attempt to use their airport credentials and access as a means to engage in illegal drug trafficking," said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates.

Investigators zeroed in on the airline workers in January after a worker found an unclaimed piece of luggage stuffed with packages of methamphetamine and heroin from a flight that arrived in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport from Mexico City. Federal agents soon suspected the bag was smuggled in by corrupt employees, partly based on the large hand-written orange sticker on the outside of the bag, according to court records.

They tracked down Springer, who was a supervisor for Delta baggage workers on that shift, and found several coded text messages he sent to Marroquin shortly before the flight's arrival. One of the messages expressed shock that they couldn't find an "ALA bag" shortly after the Delta flight arrived. "ALA" is lingo for a baggage handler.

Rondon, too, was charged after he told investigators he was recruited by Marroquin to act as a lookout. He said he was to be paid at least $500 to make sure the bag was on the flight, but that when he arrived on the tarmac to help unload the luggage he couldn't find the luggage. Rondon told authorities he texted Marroquin with the bad news and then fled the airport.

The three men face sentences of up to life in prison and a fine that could reach $10 million.


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