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Sept. 18, 2009


(HOUSTON) - A former Southwest Airlines employee who used his company flying privileges to transport cocaine between Houston and Baltimore has been sentenced to more than 10 years in federal prison without parole, U.S. Attorney Tim Johnson announced today.

Carthon Lee Merrick, 35, of Houston, was sentenced to 121 months imprisonment by United States District Judge Sim Lake yesterday. Authorities first began investigating Merrick, who worked as a baggage handler at William P. Hobby Airport, in late 2007. Houston Police Department (HPD) narcotics officers detained an acquaintance of Merrick’s who possessed more than $30,000 in U.S. currency after the acquaintance arrived on a flight from Baltimore. Investigators discovered that, since 2001, Merrick had taken more than 388 trips between Houston and Baltimore, the vast majority of which involved short nighttime turnarounds in Baltimore.

On Jan. 9, 2008, Merrick was arrested after deplaning a flight with $79,122 in U.S. currency that he carried aboard the flight in a women’s girdle. The currency represented the proceeds of cocaine that Merrick had sold in Baltimore.

Further investigation lead to the arrest of Merrick’s co-conspirators, Emilio Flores, 34, of Deer Park, Texas, and Jaime Garza Garza, 32, an unauthorized alien, the following day after Flores and Garza met Merrick to deliver 10 kilograms of cocaine. The cocaine was found hidden in a compartment in the vehicle in which they were riding. Investigating agents learned Flores had sold kilogram quantities of cocaine to Merrick on multiple occasions since mid-2007.

Merrick pleaded guilty to conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine on March 19, 2009. In addition to a 121-month term of imprisonment, Merrick was fined $5000 and sentenced to a five-year-term of supervised release. Flores and Garcia, who pleaded guilty to the same offense, were sentenced previously. Flores was sentenced to 24 months imprisonment on May 29, 2009, while Garza was sentenced to 46 months on May 15, 2009.

The case was investigated by HPD’s Narcotics Division and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney David Searle.



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