By Kathy Jefcoats
ATLANTA — A former Transportation Security Administration officer has pleaded guilty to trying to smuggle drugs into Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
Richard C. Cook II, 27, of Henry County, faces life in prison and a fine of up to $10 million when he is sentenced Jan. 3, said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates Wednesday.
“As a TSA agent, Mr. Cook was supposed to be working to keep air travel safe,” said Yates. “Instead, he sold his badge and smuggled what he believed to be heroin through the world’s busiest airport. Now he is a convicted felon.”
James E. Ward, special agent in charge at Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General’s Atlanta field office, said the guilty plea sends a message to anyone else planning to break the law.
“We are pleased with Mr. Cook’s guilty plea,” said Ward. “DHS-OIG hopes this sends a clear message that there is no place among dedicated professionals of DHS for anyone who so shamelessly defies federal law. Mr. Cook will answer for his criminal activities.”
Assistant Chief Deputy United States Marshal Chris Atwater said he hopes the conviction will serve as a deterrent.
“Mr. Cook abused his authority and violated the public’s trust,” he said. “His convictions on these charges will deter other officers from this type of illegal activity and reassure the public that the unified law enforcement team in this district will not stand for such.”
Yates said Cook began misusing his position as a TSA office in January, when he agreed to begin trying to smuggle illegal drugs through Atlanta’s airport security.
“More specifically, on Jan. 11, Cook met with two undercover officers, both of whom were posing as drug cartel members,” she said. “During the meeting, the undercover officers provided Cook with 3 kilograms of fake drugs that Cook believed to be heroin and $3,500 in cash, which was partial payment to Cook to smuggle the fake drugs through airport security.”
Wearing his official TSA uniform, Cook delivered the counterfeit drugs through an airport security checkpoint to an undercover officer inside the terminal. He then collected another $4,000, the balance for smuggling the fake drugs into the terminal.
Cook carried out a similar transaction Jan. 26, collecting another $7,500.
“In both sting operations, Cook believed that he was smuggling heroin through airport security,” said Yates.
Cook resigned in February but not before recruiting fellow TSA Officer Timothy G. Gregory to assist with the illegal operation. Cook introduced Gregory to the undercover officers who were posing as drug traffickers and received a referral fee of $1,000.
Gregory carried out the same transaction Feb. 24, collecting $5,000 for smuggling what he thought was cocaine to an undercover officer in the terminal.
On Oct. 4, Gregory pleaded to guilty conspiring and attempting to smuggle drugs through Atlanta’s airport. He will be sentenced Dec. 18 at 10:30 a.m. by U.S. District Judge Charles A. Pannell Jr.
This case is being investigated by the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Marshals Service.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey W. Davis is prosecuting the case.