News Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 6, 2008

Southwest Airlines Employee Charged With Narcotics Trafficking

OCT 6 -- (Houston, TX) - A federal grand jury has indicted Carthon Lee Merrick, 34, a Southwest Airlines employee, for conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, United States Attorney Don DeGabrielle announced today. Merrick was originally arrested in September 2008 , charged by criminal complaint and released on bond.

Authorities began investigating Merrick in late 2007. According to allegations contained in the criminal complaint, Merrick, who worked as a baggage handler, used his position with Southwest Airlines to smuggle cocaine and currency aboard Southwest Airline flights between Houston and Baltimore. Since 2001, Merrick had used his company flying privileges to take a total of 388 trips between Houston and Baltimore, including more than 100 such trips in 2007, according to Southwest Airlines records. On Jan. 9, 2008, Merrick was arrested with $79,122 in U.S. currency after deplaning a flight from Baltimore at William P. Hobby Airport in Houston.

Also charged with Merrick are Emilio Flores, 33, of Deer Park, and Jaime Garza, 32, a Mexican national illegally in the United States. The criminal complaint filed against Merrick alleges these co-defendants were Merrick’s source of supply for cocaine. A bench warrant has been issued for the arrest of Flores, who is expected to surrender to federal authorities. Garza is currently in state custody awaiting trial on state drug charges. Along with Merrick, Flores and Garza are expected to be arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Calvin Botley on Friday, Oct. 3.

If convicted, each defendant faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life imprisonment, without parole, and a maximum fine of $4 million.

This case was investigated by the Houston Police Department’s Narcotics Division and the Drug Enforcement Administration and will be prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Joe Magliolo and David Searle.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

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