By KATE BRUMBACK, Associated Press
ATLANTA (AP) — A former baggage handler at Atlanta's airport who helped smuggle guns onto passenger planes bound for New York City was sentenced Thursday to 2 ½ years in prison.
Eugene Harvey, 34, had pleaded guilty in December to conspiring to carry a weapon on an aircraft after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Harvey worked as a baggage handler and ramp agent for Delta Air Lines at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and was fired in December 2014 as a result of the investigation. Prosecutors said he abused his position with the airline to get 135 guns into the airport and then passed them off to be taken to New York to be sold on the black market.
"I made some bad decisions, but I've had the time to reflect on that and I am truly sorry," Harvey told the judge before he was sentenced, adding that he's learned his lesson and won't end up back in court.
"I can't wait to put this behind me, to move forward," he said.
The charge he pleaded guilty to carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, but prosecutors asked the judge to impose a 2 ½-year sentence. They cited his cooperation with state prosecutors in New York, which helped convict his co-defendants, among other factors.
Harvey will get credit for time already served since Feb. 3, 2016, and U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash ordered that Harvey's sentence be served at the same time as a five-year sentence he's currently serving on state charges in New York. Thrash ordered that he remain under supervision for three years once his federal sentence is completed.
"We take airline safety seriously and we will continue to prosecute individuals who threaten the safety of our airline travelers," U.S. Attorney Byung J. "BJay" Pak said in a news release.
New York police investigating the trafficking of guns that were stolen or bought by straw buyers in the Atlanta area and brought to New York had identified former Delta employee Mark Quentin Henry as a person who was transporting the guns, according to a December 2014 court filing. Investigators said he then passed them off to someone else who sold them to an undercover officer.
When Henry was arrested on Dec. 10, 2014, he had a backpack that contained a smaller bag with 18 handguns inside, including seven that were loaded. He told investigators he had flown from Atlanta to New York with the guns and ammunition in his carry-on bag.
Based on Henry's cellphone records, airport security camera footage and security records, investigators determined Henry had conspired with Harvey to get guns past security, the court filing says. Records showed Henry and Harvey had exchanged 12 text messages shortly before Harvey's flight left for New York City that day.
Records showed Harvey used his employee badge to enter a secure area of the airport just before 7 a.m. the day of Henry's flight to New York. Security camera footage showed Henry, who was carrying a backpack, went through security around 7:30 a.m. and proceeded to a gate in the B concourse where he sat down and began exchanging text messages with Harvey, according to the court filing.
Footage shows Harvey entering a men's restroom across from the gate and Henry immediately following. A minute later, the court filing says, Henry walked out with the backpack in which investigators later found the guns and Harvey exited a short time later. Henry then went to a different gate to board his flight to New York.
An investigation showed that on at least four other dates — in January, June, August and November 2014 — Harvey used his employee badge to enter the secure area on days when he wasn't working. On each of those dates, he exchanged text messages with Henry a short time later and then Henry flew from Atlanta to New York. Shortly after those dates, an undercover officer in New York bought guns from Henry's associate, a court filing says.
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