May 19, 2015 12:11 PM by NBC News
Fourteen people, including three baggage handlers, were arrested in an alleged three-year conspiracy to transport marijuana throughout the country by skirting airport security in Oakland, California, officials said Monday.
The baggage handlers, carrying luggage containing marijuana, would enter the Air Operations area at Oakland International Airport without having to pass through a security checkpoint, federal prosecutors said.
They would then use their secure badges to enter a Southwest Airlines passenger terminal beyond the checkpoint and hand off the drug-filled bag to a courier to carry onto an outbound flight to another city where the drugs would be sold, prosecutors said.
One of the baggage handlers also used his privileges as an airline employee to ship drugs as cargo, according to the criminal complaint.
Officials alleged that the conspiracy was operating as early as July 2012.
In a statement, Southwest said it doesn't tolerate "any behavior or activity that could jeopardize the safety and security of our operation" and that it's fully cooperating with authorities.
The defendants were charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana.
Nine defendants have been arraigned, one of whom was released on bond. Two are serving state prison terms, and three are fugitives.