A flight attendant has pleaded guilty to a single charge of attempting to smuggle fentanyl that was strapped to her abdomen through a TSA checkpoint at San Diego International Airport with intent to distribute the highly addictive and powerful drug.
Terese Lee White from Texas was arrested in October after she was stopped for a random search while she tried to get through a special expedited security screening lane for pilots and flight attendants.
The ex-Mesa Air flight attendant who operated regional flights on behalf of American Airlines and United was pulled to one side as she attempted to use the Known Crewmember lane at the airport and directed to walk through a standard metal detector.
After setting off the metal detector, White was subjected to a pat down search in a private room where a package that had been strapped to her abdomen was discovered. White initially told law enforcement that the package was a mercury weight loss device.
A canine unit was called and alerted to the package. A drug field test indicated that the substance was fentanyl.
On Thursday, White entered into a plea agreement in which she pleaded guilty to a felony crime of possessing fentanyl with intent to distribute. The total amount of drugs recovered by police weighed around 3.33 pounds.
In her plea agreement, White says she arrived in San Diego on a flight from Dallas Fort Worth on October 4 where she exited the airport before retuning later the same day. Despite being off duty, White was allowed to use the known crewmember lane to bypass normal security checks but she was randomly selected for an enhanced check.
White says she deliberately attempted to use the known crewmember lane to “facilitate” her crime. She is due to be sentenced on March 24, 2023. She faces a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment plus a $1 million fine.
The crime shone the spotlight on alleged abuse of the known crewmember program and raised worries for law-abiding aircrew that the TSA was about to scrap the scheme altogether.
The TSA says it does not intend to end Known Crewmember but it is taking over the program and putting in additional safeguards to ensure the system is not abused.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.