Airline employees arrested for using commercial aircraft to ship drugs
Press release courtesy of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Twenty-three individuals, including eight employees of American Airlines were arrested today in Puerto Rico and Miami as part of DEA’s ‘Operation Heavy Cargo’ which uncovered a drug trafficking organization that used commercial aircraft to transport cocaine to the United States.
The four-count indictment charges that the defendants, aided and abetted each other, participated in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute in excess of 9,000 kilograms of cocaine, aboard American Airlines commercial aircrafts.
This drug trafficking organization, led by defendant Wilfredo Rodríguez Rosado, began operating in or about 1999 and has been responsible for smuggling over $19 million worth of cocaine into the United States. 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 different cities in the U.S.
"Today's arrests are examples of DEA's success in aggressively pursuing those criminal organizations which exploit vulnerabilities in our airports, airline recruits and air transportation employees to facilitate their drug trafficking activities. With these arrests 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," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Javier F. Peña. "With the cooperation of the airline industry, the Puerto Rico Ports Authority and our law enforcement counterparts, DEA will keep drug traffickers away from our airports. 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.
The following defendants were all arrested in Puerto Rico and are employees of the airline:
Manuel Santiago Alvarado;
Wilfredo Santiago Ríos;
José D. Cordero San Miguel;
Orlando Jimenez Torres;
Wilfredo Cancel García;
Roberto Rodríguez Cruz;
José M. Colón Martínez; and
Camilo Sánchez Rodríguez.
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.