Fourteen people, including three baggage handlers at Oakland International Airport, were charged on Monday with being part of a ring that smuggled drugs through airport security, federal prosecutors said.
Nine of the defendants were taken into custody on Saturday at the conclusion of an extensive, multi-agency investigation, U.S. attorney's spokesman Abraham Simmons said.
Two other defendants were already in custody on other charges and three remained at large, Simmons said.
All 14 were charged in U.S. District Court in San Francisco with conspiracy to distribute more than 100 kg of marijuana, which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years in federal prison.
Prosecutors said the defendants were part of a drug trafficking organization that took advantage of the special access granted to baggage handlers to circumvent airport security.
According to the criminal complaint, the baggage handlers would bring luggage containing marijuana through an employee-only secure area of the airport not accessible to passengers and hand it off to their co-conspirators in the passenger terminals.
The co-conspirators would then carry the bags containing marijuana onto flights for transport across the country for distribution and sale, prosecutors said.