The son of a former Los Angeles fire chief was charged Monday with bribing a federal Transportation Security Administration officer at Los Angeles International Airport to help him smuggle marijuana past security on nine separate trips.
Millage Peaks IV admitted to FBI agents that he and his associates made the trips with the aid of a TSA officer, whom they paid $5,000 to $6,000 in bribes to avoid detection, according to an FBI affidavit.
Peaks and TSA Officer Dianne Perez were arrested on bribery charges Sunday following what the FBI said was his most recent attempt. A baggage handler smelled marijuana in the luggage and alerted authorities, who found 14 pounds of marijuana. Perez was charged Monday with accepting a bribe.
Authorities said Peaks bought the marijuana for $38,000 the day before in the Bay Area, then drove back to L.A. to make the 7:25 a.m. American Airlines flight to Boston, where investigators believed he intended to resell the marijuana.
Peaks, a 23-year-old construction worker, told authorities that Perez, 28, of Inglewood, helped him circumvent security nine previous times. Each time, he would pay her $500 per bag.
Peaks' father is Millage Peaks III, who had been chief of the Los Angeles Fire Department until earlier this year. His sister is an officer with the LAX Police Department. But she and his father told investigators they had no knowledge of alleged drug smuggling by Millage Peaks IV.
TSA issued a statement Monday saying the agency was involved in the investigation and that "appropriate disciplinary action will be taken."
In interviews with authorities, Peaks offered a detailed explanation of the system devised by he and Perez to get drugs onboard planes.
On Sunday, authorities said he told them, he met Perez outside the terminal and checked in for his American Airlines flight for Boston. He then gave her two pieces of checked luggage, which Perez took to a TSA screening room, according to an affidavit from federal investigators.
She returned three minutes later and waved, an indication that "everything is good," he said in the affidavit. He also said that Perez taught him how to pack his bags to avoid detection.
Text messages from cellphones Peaks turned over to the FBI show he sent a number of text messages to Perez. In a message dated Oct. 7, he wrote: "He made it coo. Thanx soo much. U have no clue how clutch u r. Without u none of this would b possible….Ill have ur 700 Monday maybe earlier."
In another, dated Sept. 30, he wrote: "500$ tom night. Good looks."
Perez, a TSA officer for seven and a half years, was assigned to run bags through an X-ray machine and search for explosive, dangerous items or dense items. Although she initially told investigators that Sunday was only her second time to move bags through security for Peaks, she later said she had helped him many more times. She said, however, that Peaks had paid her $3,000.
Peaks and Perez were released from custody in lieu of $20,000 bail Monday. Their arraignments are set for Nov. 14. If convicted, Peaks and Perez each face up to 15 years in federal prison, said Thom Mrozek, a U.S. Attorney's office spokesman.