WALLA WALLA -- The longtime janitor at the Walla Walla Regional Airport has pleaded innocent to a criminal charge relating to the discovery of three baggies of suspected methamphetamine at the terminal building this month.
Elias Alonso, 39, of 620 Chase Ave., entered the innocent plea Monday in Superior Court to the charge of possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine. His trial is scheduled for March 14.
Officials speculate that Alonso may have been acting as a "mule," facilitating distribution of drugs from secure areas of the airport.
A different airport employee allegedly discovered the nearly seven ounces of suspected meth -- with a street value of about $14,000 -- in the janitorial room Dec. 14. The baggies were in a Tupperware container at the bottom of a box that contained toilet paper, according to a report by sheriff's Detective Gary Bolster that is filed in court.
Alonso told Bolster he found the container in the parking lot and intended to inform the airport's security coordinator, but forgot.
Port of Walla Walla Executive Director Jim Kuntz reportedly told the Sheriff's Office that Alonso had worked at the airport for about 10 years, but his performance had deteriorated the past year.
Alonso also reportedly had financial trouble and recently took out a loan to pay bills.
"Alonso had $2,023 on his person, which he said was part of the loan money that he had gotten but had not yet spent on other bills," Bolster's report says.
Bolster also wrote that Alonso "... most likely, due to financial troubles, decided to start 'muleing' large amounts of methamphetamine, due to his complete access to all areas in the airport."
Sheriff Mike Humphreys explained in an interview that Alonso may have been acting as a middleman to help transport drugs by placing them in areas where passengers already had cleared security for pick up and delivery to unknown destinations.
Airport officials say there is no evidence that any transactions took place in the secure area of the terminal building.
Kuntz said in an interview that Alonso has been suspended from his position indefinitely with pay. He said the Port is consulting with legal counsel on the longer term status of his employment. In the meantime, another employee has stepped into Alonso's position. No major changes are otherwise in the works in terms of employee protocol, airport officials said.
Alonso was arrested Dec. 17. Bail was set at $7,500, but was posted later that day and he was released from the County Jail pending further court proceedings.
U-B reporter Vicki Hillhouse contributed to this report. Terry McConn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8319.