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Baggage handler convicted of Kennedy drug smuggling

Gary Lall, 32, who had worked for American Airlines since 1991 before he was arrested in November 2003, was described as one of the ringleaders in the operation that involved 24 others and faces up to life in prison, said Robert Nardoza, a spokesman with the U.S. attorney's office. Three other suspects were convicted in Lall's trial and now all of the 25 defendants have either pleaded guilty or have been convicted, according to Nardoza. He said Lall's trial lasted for only a week and the jury deliberated for about two days before reaching their verdict.The TimesLedger earlier reported, citing Roslynn Mauskopf, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, that Lall and the other defendants used their status as airport employees to hide drugs on planes mostly coming from Jamaica and Guyana and then removed them to safe areas to bypass border inspections.As part of the investigation, which began in October 2002, Nardoza said the feds taped cellphone conversations between Lall and his associates through one of the defendants who was arrested. The Daily News reported that federal investigators also decoded messages in those conversations that referred to cargo containers as "dance floors," "parties" as shipments of drugs and "deejays" as corrupt airport workers assigned to retrieve the drugs.The TimesLedger also earlier reported that the investigation was prompted after Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents confiscated several shipments of cocaine on Universal Airline flights from Guyana, according to Mauskopf. She also said in a statement that heightened surveillance led to the arrest of one of the defendants for allegedly trying to divert luggage carrying 17 kilograms of cocaine. Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173

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