U.S. Customs agents and the U.S. Attorney for Maryland today announced the largest heroin seizure from a commercial airline passenger ever made at Baltimore-Washington International airport.
Customs agents seized 5.42 pounds of heroin and one-fifth of a pound of marijuana Sunday from Alois G. Coleman, 48, of Bethesda, when she arrived at BWI on a flight from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, federal authorities said.
In U.S. District Court in Baltimore yesterday, Magistrate Judge Paul M. Rosenberg released Ms. Coleman on a $75,000 unsecured bond. If convicted, she faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison without parole and a $4 million fine.
Customs Special Agent Donald G. Turnbaugh said today investigators have made several large seizures of more than two pounds of heroin over the last year, but the amount taken Sunday was the first to exceed five pounds.
Mr. Turnbaugh said the value of the drug could range from $400,000 to $1 million depending on its purity and how it is mixed with other chemicals before distribution.
He said Ms. Coleman returned to the U.S. after an 10-day stay in Sierra Leone in western Africa. She changed flights in the Netherlands before arriving at BWI, he said.
Mr. Turnbaugh said customs agents closely scrutinize flights from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria and neighboring countries because those countries are sources of heroin distributed here. He said customs inspectors were alerted to Ms. Coleman at the terminal when she exhibited nervous behavior and gave unclear answers to questions.
He said inspectors grew more suspicious when she told them she was able to afford a long stay in Africa although she is unemployed, he said.
Female agents then took her to an area where they conducted a strip search and found the heroin tucked inside her panty hose at her waist and the marijuana inside her brassiere, he said.
"The heroin gave her the appearance of having a paunch," Mr. Turnbaugh said.
He said inspectors believed that her role in the smuggling operation was limited, and that she was given a plane ticket and $1,100 to fly the drugs into the U.S.
"We're dealing with a basic mule here. We're not dealing with a drug trafficker," he said, adding that officials have not identified the person who sent her to Africa for the drugs.
E. Thomas Roberts, an assistant U.S. attorney, said authorities are trying to find other people connected to the smuggling operation.