Eight dockworkers at ports in New York and New Jersey helped smuggle millions of dollars worth of cocaine that was eventually sold on the streets of New York City, federal prosecutors said on Tuesday.
The longshoremen used their access to secure areas of the ports to unload drugs from Panama without detection from law enforcement authorities, said Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan. In some cases, unloading a single duffel bag of cocaine would earn a longshoreman as much as his entire year’s salary, Mr. Bharara said.
“In today’s world, we simply can’t afford to have a port that is porous, and we can’t afford to have even a single corrupt longshoreman,” Mr. Bharara said during a news conference at his office in Lower Manhattan, where he announced charges against the longshoremen and three other people in the drug operation.
The charges came about two years after the overhaul of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor, the agency that was supposed to prevent corruption at the ports, but instead became a sideshow of misconduct.
“The place in the past was a treasury of politics, favoritism and corruption,” said Joseph Fisch, the New York State inspector general, who led the investigation into the Waterfront Commission.
The arrest two years ago of a man who tried to deliver cocaine sparked the drug investigation, which used wiretaps and confidential informers to uncover the drug ring, according to a criminal complaint. During the investigation, the authorities seized more than 1.3 metric tons of cocaine worth more than $34 million, the complaint said.
The 11 people charged in the drug ring were charged with one count each of conspiracy to distribute and conspiracy to import cocaine, crimes that carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.
During the inquiry, prosecutors said, they also uncovered an illegal stock-trading scheme after learning that a longshoreman received money from others to put toward a penny stock. Investigators discovered a “pump-and-dump” scheme in which people were promoting stocks on Facebook and Twitter to create excitement and get people to purchase them.
The stocks were actually weak, prosecutors said, and after the participants in the scheme sold them off, they quickly lost value. While the participants in the plot earned more than $3 million, the subsequent investors lost $7 million, prosecutors said.
In addition to those arrested in the drug operation, the authorities announced that one longshoreman and 10 other people had been arrested in the stock scheme and charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Arnold Eugene Rodgers, one of the longshoremen facing drug charges, was a supervisor. Mr. Rodgers, who was still at large Tuesday evening, became a focus of the investigation in May, when an undercover agent met him at a union hall of the International Longshoremen’s Association, according to the criminal complaint. The agent knew Mr. Rodgers had been investigated a decade earlier as part of a group that trafficked heroin into the United States from Afghanistan, the complaint said.
Mr. Rodgers was caught on wiretaps discussing trafficking drugs into New York and negotiating purchases of cocaine, prosecutors said.
In exchange for cash, drugs and other benefits, the longshoremen would secretly unload cocaine hidden among the everyday merchandise shipped to the six berths that make up the ports of New York and New Jersey, the busiest on the East Coast, prosecutors said. The longshoremen were paid $50,000 to $100,000 for unloading a single duffle bag of cocaine, Mr. Bharara said.
To unload the narcotics, prosecutors said, the longshoremen placed the containers where authorities could not see them. After breaking customs seals to remove the drugs, the longshoremen would replace them with new ones, prosecutors said.
Walter M. Arsenault, the executive director of the Waterfront Commission, said that all of the longshoremen arrested were hired before the commission was revamped two years ago.
Now the screening process for hiring longshoremen is much more extensive. In previous hiring questionnaires, he said, “the most probing question was, ‘Where did you go to high school?’ ”
By JOHN ELIGON
Published: October 5, 2010
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