NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. Air National Guard pilot and a crew member have been arrested for using official military missions to smuggle millions of dollars worth Ecstasy into the United States, federal authorities said on Wednesday.
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Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Christopher Giovino, who heads the New York organized drug enforcement strike force, said the arrests were part of a long-term, ongoing investigation. He described the men as transporters in a bigger conspiracy but said he could not provide any other details.
Capt. Franklin Rodriguez, a pilot of the U.S. Air Force C-5A "Galaxy" cargo aircraft, and Master Sgt. John Fong, in charge of loading and unloading cargo, were arrested on Tuesday and expected to be presented in Manhattan federal court on Wednesday night.
Officials said some 290,000 Ecstasy pills were found in the defendants' luggage upon their return to the United States. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration Web site, an Ecstasy tablet typically sells between $20 and $30 on the street and its value can be as high as $40.
During questioning by law enforcement authorities, the men admitted to authorities that they had also transported Ecstasy on previous military flights, the complaint stated.
The men are charged with one count of conspiracy to import Ecstasy into the United States and one count of conspiracy to distribute the drug. If convicted, the two men face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine on each count.
According to the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court, Rodriguez was the pilot and Fong was the loadmaster on a U.S. Air Force C-5A aircraft last week from the Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, on an official mission to deliver training supplies to the Republic of Georgia.
On their return, the crew stopped in Germany where the two defendants went to a hotel room and loaded packages of Ecstasy into their luggage, the complaint said.
On Tuesday, after the men landed at the Stewart Air National Guard Base, federal law enforcement agents searched their luggage and found 28 large bags filled with Ecstasy tablets.
Law enforcement agents who interviewed Rodriguez said he admitted transporting Ecstasy on military flights on a number of other occasions and had taken the drug to his Bronx apartment for distribution.
Fong told agents he transported pills with Rodriguez on three prior occasions and was paid $10,000 for each trip. Authorities would not comment on who had paid Fong.