Eight American Airlines employees were among the 23 people arrested in Miami and Puerto Rico as part of Drug Enforcement Administration's "Operation Heavy Cargo" that uncovered a drug trafficking organization that used commercial aircraft to import cocaine.
In the four-count indictment, the defendants are charged with aiding and abetting, as well as participating in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute in excess of 9,000 kilograms of cocaine aboard American Airlines commercial aircrafts.
A drug-trafficking organization that was allegedly led by Wilfredo Rodríguez Rosado began operating around 1999 and has been responsible for smuggling over $19 million worth of cocaine into the country, according to the DEA. Rodríguez Rosado recruited and organized a group of American Airlines employees to ensure that suitcases loaded with kilograms of cocaine were smuggled into American Airlines aircrafts and transported to Miami and other U.S. cities.
"Today's arrests are examples of DEA's success in aggressively pursuing those criminal organizations that exploit vulnerabilities in our airports, airline recruits and air transportation employees to facilitate their drug trafficking activities," said Javier F. Peña, special agent in charge. "By denying the drug traffickers alternate smuggling routes, we disrupt the flow of drugs into Puerto Rico and discourage the use of the island as a trans-shipment point in the Caribbean."
Four of the defendants are charged with attempt to posses with the intent to distribute approximately 20 kilograms of cocaine in June 2009; a transaction the defendants were unable to complete for reasons beyond their control. The indictment also includes an $18 million forfeiture count for property throughout Puerto Rico.
"The United States Attorney's Office, along with our state and federal law enforcement counterparts, will continue investigating and prosecuting drug trafficking organizations which use our island as a trans-shipment 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," said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.
If convicted, the defendants face a minimum of ten years imprisonment and a maximum of life imprisonment, with fines of up to $4 million.
Agents from the Bayamón Strike Force, the Puerto Rico Police Department, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation participated during the investigation and arrests this morning.
Read the full press release from the DEA.