2 PLEAD GUILTY TO SMUGGLING DRUGS ABOARD MILITARY PLANE
Two Air National Guardsmen charged with smuggling thousands of Ecstasy pills on a military cargo plane to New York from Germany pleaded guilty yesterday, admitting that they had imported the pills and planned to sell them.
The men, Capt. Franklin Rodriguez and Master Sgt. John Fong, who both confessed soon after their arrest in April 2005, entered the guilty pleas to reduce their prison terms, their lawyers said, and because they accept responsibility for the crime.
"He got caught up," said Lawrence V. Carra, a lawyer for the pilot of the cargo plane, Captain Rodriguez. "It's the glamour of it, and avarice and greed does play a part," he said.
Captain Rodriguez, who had more than $700,000 in cash in his Bronx apartment when he was arrested, reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors, the full details of which were not revealed yesterday.
Master Sergeant Fong, who was the load handler on the plane, did not have an agreement, but his lawyer said he thought his client deserved a far shorter term than the 17 1/2 to 21 years that federal sentencing guidelines mandate.
The two men, wearing prison scrubs, appeared before Judge John G. Koeltl in Federal District Court in Manhattan, turning occasionally to smile at relatives sitting behind them.
On April 8, 2005, the men flew an Air Force C-5A Galaxy -- one of the largest planes in the world -- from Stewart Air National Guard base in Newburgh, N.Y., through Germany east to the Republic of Georgia, where they delivered training supplies for the Georgian military. Then they flew back to an American base in Germany, prosecutors said.
They visited a hotel near the base, and loaded their luggage with more than 200,000 pills of MDMA, the hallucinogenic stimulant known by its street name, Ecstasy.
When they returned to New York, investigators who had been tipped off were waiting for them, and watched them load Captain Rodriguez's silver BMW with the shipment, which had an estimated street value of up to $11.6 million. Then the investigators arrested them.
As part of his guilty plea, Captain Rodriguez forfeited the money found in his apartment, his silver BMW, and money he had deposited on a property in Mount Vernon, N.Y.
Sergeant Fong's lawyer, Paul Testaverde, said that his client had played a significantly smaller role in the smuggling operation than Captain Rodriguez.
Soon after his arrest, Sergeant Fong told investigators that he was paid $10,000 for three trips he had made from Germany with Ecstasy. Mr. Testaverde called his client a "mule," who carries drugs for someone else
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