US anti-drug swoop arrests American Airlines staff

By Terrapinzflyer · Sep 15, 2009 · ·
  1. Terrapinzflyer
    US anti-drug swoop arrests American Airlines staff

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Sept 15 (Reuters) - U.S. agents arrested 21 people, nine of them American Airlines (AMR.N) employees, accused of smuggling suitcases loaded with cocaine on flights from Puerto Rico to the United States, authorities said on Tuesday.

    The accused, 20 of whom were detained in Puerto Rico and one in Miami, were charged with a conspiracy to distribute more than 9,000 kg (19,800 pounds) of cocaine aboard American Airlines commercial flights, according to an indictment released by the U.S. Attorney for the U.S. Caribbean territory.

    The operation involved the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Puerto Rico Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

    Of the 23 suspects named in the indictment, 21 were detained by mid-morning on Tuesday, DEA officials said. The two remaining suspects were being sought in San Juan.

    "With these arrests the DEA closes another route for thousands of kilograms of cocaine to reach the United States or any other part of the world from Puerto Rico," DEA Special Agent in Charge Javier Pena said in a statement.

    The indictment alleged the ringleader of the trafficking ring, American Airlines employee Wilfredo Rodriguez-Rosado, had since 1999 recruited and organized a group of fellow airline employees to smuggle suitcases loaded with cocaine onto American Airlines aircraft bound for different cities in the continental United States.


    Prosecutors said members of the group worked together to fill suitcases with cocaine and, taking advantage of their position as American Airlines employees, smuggle them from the airline's cargo area at San Juan's Luis Munoz Marin International Airport aboard flights to the United States.

    Minnette Velez, spokeswoman for American Airlines in San Juan, which is the airline's transport hub for the Caribbean, confirmed that company employees had been arrested.

    "Whenever the authorities bring a situation like this to our attention, we work with them. That was the case here," she said.

    American Airlines issued a statement saying: "As a company, we hope that the actions of a few employees don't reflect negatively on the tens of thousands of ethical American Airlines employees who work hard to serve the public daily."

    If convicted, the defendants face a minimum of 10 years imprisonment and a maximum of life imprisonment, with fines of up to $4 million.

    Prosecutors said they would seek the forfeiture of $18 million worth of property belonging to the defendants, including a number of residences and businesses.

    The U.S. Attorney for Puerto Rico, Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, said U.S. authorities would intensify their efforts to prevent Puerto Rico being used as a transshipment point for drugs to the U.S. mainland.

    "The use of commercial aircraft to smuggle narcotics in and out of Puerto Rico, also creates a serious threat to our national security," Rodriguez-Velez added.

    * Nine American Airlines employees among those arrested

    * Accused of sending cocaine-filled cases to United States

    * Indictment names 23 accused, 21 in custody

    * Almost all arrests in Puerto Rico, one in Miami (Recasts, adds details of indictment, quotes from officials)
    (Additional reporting by Jane Sutton; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Jim Loney, Bernard Orr)

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  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Airline Workers Pushed 9,000K of Cocaine: DOJ

    Nine American Airlines workers are among the 23 people arrested in a federal investigation targeting a drug smuggling ring in Florida and the Caribbean who attempted to distribute 9,000 kilos of cocaine.
    The Fort Worth-based airline confirmed the arrest of its employees in Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, Tuesday. Airline spokesman Tim Wagner told that the company has been working with the authorities in the investigation.
    "As a company, we hope the actions of a few employees don't reflect negatively on the tens of thousands of ethical American Airlines employees who work hard to serve the public daily," Wagner said.
    Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Waldo Santiago told the Associated Press at least 20 people have been arrested in connection with a ring that smuggled narcotics between Puerto Rico and the U.S. Mainland.
    Federal authorities said they have 23 arrest warrants in the case for people in cities across Puerto Rico and Miami. According to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, the following AA employees were arrested in the four-count indictment: Wilfredo Rodríguez-Rosado, Manuel Santiago Alvarado, Wilfredo Santiago Ríos, José D. Cordero San Miguel, Orlando Jimenez Torres, Wilfredo Cancel García, Roberto Rodríguez Cruz, José M. Colón Martínez, Camilo Sánchez Rodríguez.
    The Dept. of Justice said Rosado led the organization since about 1999 and that he recruited individuals who worked for the airline to insure the suitcases loaded with cocaine were ferried around the United States.
    All defendants arrested were charged with conspiracy to possess and attempt to distribute approximately 9,000 kilos of cocaine abord American Airlines aircraft.
    The third count in the indictment charges four of the defendants with trying to possess and distribute 20 kilos of cocaine in June of this year -- a transaction investigators said was never completed due to circumstances beyond the control of the defendants.
    The $18 million forfeiture count includes the following properties: four residences in the municipality of Morovis; two residences in Bayamón; one residence in Barceloneta; one multi-apartment complex in Morovis; two business establishments in Morovis; and one business establishment in Bayamón.
    If convicted, the defendants face a possible life sentence in prison and fines of up to $4 million.
    A similar sting in 1999 led to the arrest of 42 AA ramp agents and 13 food service contract employees, according to CNN. Arrests began in Miami and New York by the DEA, ATF, U.S. Customs Service and the Miami-Dade police department -- while the grand jury indictments of the 2.5 year investigation were unsealed. Ramp agents were accused of unloading what they thought was cocaine arriving from Colombia, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia, CNN reported. The cocaine was fake and provided by the DEA.
    In 2004, 14 people, including 11 former or current AA cargo workers at Miami International Airport, were indicted on charges of smuggling and distributing cocaine and heroin in the U.S., USA Today reports.

    Updated 2:05 PM CDT, Tue, Sep 15, 2009
  2. Terrapinzflyer
    OIA Workers Busted In Cocaine Smuggling Ring

    ORLANDO, Fla. -- Drug agents broke up a major smuggling ring that was operating, in part, out of Central Florida and it has been going on for the past 19 years. One suspect worked as an American Airlines baggage handler at Orlando International Airport.
    The drugs came from South America and were smuggled into Puerto Rico, then sent as baggage on airplanes all along the eastern seaboard of the U.S. Much of it came right into Orlando.
    Federal agents say the drug ring packed suitcases full of cocaine and put it on American Airlines flights. Somehow, that luggage stayed under the radar, right under the noses of all the drug-sniffing dogs at all the airports and ended up in Orlando and elsewhere.
    The arrests were made in Florida and Puerto Rico after a six-month investigation that actually started in a neighborhood in Puerto Rico.
    Federal agents say American Airlines was the carrier of choice for the drug ring for 19 years shipping one ton of cocaine every year, a $19 million business.
    Nine of the 23 people arrested worked for American Airlines, ramp and baggage workers who could steward their stashes from Puerto Rico to Orlando and points beyond without having to go through customs.
    "It's shocking that sort of thing could happen, especially after 9/11 how important airport security is, that something like this could happen," American Airlines customer Andy Rainier said.
    Federal agents say 45-year-old Jose Colon-Martinez worked at Orlando International Airport during the six-month investigation. Then, at some point, he transferred to Miami and agents say that's where he was arrested. At one time he lived off Chickasaw Trail in Orlando.
    Federal agents say Colon-Martinez, an employee of American Airlines, would alert his comrades when the shipment came in to make sure someone got it from baggage claim.
    Federal agents say the ringleaders, who recruited other American Airlines employees, used generous pay and intimidation to keep their operation going and they worked freelance for whoever wanted to move cocaine from South America through Puerto Rico into the United States. Suspects could be paid as much as $5,000 for one job.
    The drug ring was not discovered by the airline or airport security, but by local police in Puerto Rico on patrol in a neighborhood who noticed people moving something from an American Airlines container into a van; it was cocaine.
    Court records show Colon-Martinez was arrested four years ago for marijuana possession. He violated his probation and records indicate he served a six-month sentence of home confinement. Eyewitness News asked how Colon-Martinez's arrest could've stayed under the radar and tried to find out whether it would have affected his security clearance at OIA, but American Airlines is not answering specific questions about its nine employees who were arrested in the cocaine operation.
    It isn't the first smuggling connection between Orlando and Puerto Rico that WFTV has reported on. In July 2007, a former JetBlue employee smuggled four pistols and two sub-machine guns to Puerto Rico. Hiram Rivera-Ortiz is serving six years in federal prison for that.
    In March 2007, agents confiscated 14 guns and eight pounds of marijuana on a Delta flight to Puerto Rico. Two people were arrested. That bust prompted a congressional review into the nation's airports.

    Posted: 4:56 pm EDT September 16, 2009
    Updated: 6:53 pm EDT September 16, 2009


    there is a video clip of the news story on the stations website linked above
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