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Airline worker gets probation in drug case

A US Airways worker was sentenced Tuesday for her role in a drug smuggling case that already has netted a federal security officer and a Buffalo City Hall employee.

Tinisha T. Anthony's sentence to two years of probation -- she's one of five defendants in the case -- leaves ringleader Derek Frank as the lone unsentenced defendant.

Anthony, like her mother, Regina McCullen, was portrayed by both the defense and prosecution as an accomplice who fell victim to Frank's influence and control.

"They were fed a line by the defendant, and they were manipulated," Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary C. Baumgarten said of the two women.

As part of a plea deal, Anthony admitted arranging for a birth certificate card to be issued by the City of Buffalo containing Frank's fingerprints but under her stepson's name.

"There's no excuse, and there's no real explanation," John Jordan, Anthony's defense attorney, said of his client. "She's contrite. She's remorseful."

Prosecutors say Anthony, a former customer service representative for US Airways at the Raleigh-Durham Airport, arranged for Frank to fly between Buffalo and Arizona using the fake card.

"I'm so sorry judge," Anthony told U.S. District Judge Richard J. Arcara in between sobs Tuesday. "I'm just so sorry this happened."

The investigation into Frank resulted in a series of prosecutions, including one against a former Transportation Security Administration officer.

Minetta Walker, a behavior detection officer with the TSA, was sentenced to two years in prison for helping Frank smuggle cash through the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. She also admitted warning two drug associates that federal agents were tracking them at the airport.

Prosecutors also charged McCullen, a former employee in the Buffalo City Clerk's office, with creating a fake birth certificate for Frank. A North Carolina resident like Anthony, McCullen pleaded guilty and got two years of probation. Another defendant, Miguel Guzman, also took a plea and was sentenced to probation. Guzman admitted helping with the shipment of marijuana through the U.S. mail from Phoenix to Buffalo.

Frank, 31, the man prosecutors describe as the ringleader, was the last one to take a plea deal in the case. He admitted laundering money and conspiring with others to distribute marijuana, and now faces nearly 14 years in prison.

Prosecutors say Frank smuggled drugs and cash to and from Phoenix over a three-year period starting in February 2008. He was arrested after an investigation by the FBI, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority police, the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

email: pfairbanks@buffnews.com