The Drug Enforcement Administration arrested eight American Airlines employees and charged them taking part in a drug trafficking ring that used commercial flights over 10 years to smuggle $19 million worth of cocaine into the United States, the Justice Department announced.
The ring allegedly operated between Puerto Rico and Miami and the DEA broke it up Sept. 17 with arrests of the eight airline workers and 15 other people in a sweep the agency called “Operation Heavy Cargo.”
A four-count indictment charges the defendants participated in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than 9,000 kilograms of cocaine aboard an American Airlines commercial aircraft.
The U.S. Justice Department said in a statement that the ring operated since 1999 and was led by one of the men arrested, Wifredo Rodriguez Rosado. The indictment alleges he recruited others to take part in an ongoing operation in which cocaine was smuggled in luggage onto aircraft bound for the United States.
The indictment includes a count calling for the forfeiture of $18 million worth of 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 10 years imprisonment and a maximum of life imprisonment, with fines of up to $4 million.
Contact Thomas L. Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org.