Tuesday, February 14, 2017
TSA and airport workers indicted for allegedly smuggling 20 tons of cocaine through Puerto Rico airport
By Ashley Halsey III
The Washington (DC) Post
In this Oct. 30, 2014, file photo, a TSA officer, left, checks a passenger’s ticket, boarding pass and passport as part of security screening at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. The investigation of TSA officers at Puerto Rico’s San Juan airport was initiated by TSA, officials said, as part of the agency’s effort to “address employee misconduct and specific insider threat vulnerabilities,” said Jose Baquero, federal security director for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Twelve current and former TSA agents and airport workers have been indicted by a federal grand jury in Puerto Rico for allegedly taking part in a conspiracy to smuggle tons of cocaine through the airport in San Juan, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico said Monday.
U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez said the defendants smuggled suitcases containing at least 8 to 15 kilograms each of the drug through the TSA security system at the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. Rodriguez-Vélez said sometimes as many as five mules were used on each flight, with each mule checking-in up to two suitcases. Between 1998 and 2016 they are alleged to have smuggled 20 tons of cocaine through the airport.
“These individuals were involved in a conspiracy to traffic massive quantities of illegal narcotics to the continental United States,” Rodríguez-Vélez said in a statement.
Six current and former TSA employees, José Cruz-López, Luis Vázquez-Acevedo, Keila Carrasquillo, Carlos Rafael Adorno-Hiraldo, Antonio Vargas-Saavedra, and Daniel Cruz-Echevarríae allegedly smuggled the cocaine through while employed as TSA officers at the airport, where their responsibilities included providing security and screening for checked and carry-on baggage placed on outbound flights.
According to the news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office, defendants Edwin Francisco Castro, Luis Vázquez-Acevedo and Ferdinand López served as facilitators between the drug trafficking organizations and the TSA employees who smuggled the cocaine onto the airplanes. Miguel Ángel Pérez-Rodríguez, who worked for the airport security company, was a source of supply of cocaine to the drug trafficking organization.
Rodríguez-Vélez said defendant Javier Ortiz began assisting drug trafficking organizations as an employee of Airport Aviation Services as a baggage handler/ramp employee. He allegedly would pick up suitcases he knew contained cocaine from the mules at airline check-in counters. Ortiz would then place the suitcases into the X-Ray machines being monitored by the TSA drug trafficking organization members, who cleared them. After the suitcases had been cleared by TSA members, Ortiz took the suitcases to their designated flight, making sure no narcotic K-9 unit or law enforcement personnel were present when the suitcase went from the checkpoint to the airplane. Once the suitcases were loaded onto the plane, Ortiz would call the drug trafficking organization member with the all clear and the mules would then board the plane. Ortiz also paid the TSA employees for clearing the suitcases through TSA security, according to the indictment.
Defendant Tomas Dominguez-Rohena assisted the drug trafficking organization by taking the suitcases he knew contained cocaine after they had been cleared by TSA members or smuggled past security to their designated flight; defendant José Gabriel López-Mercado served as a mule.
If convicted the defendants face a minimum sentence of 10 years up to life in prison. According to U.S. Attorney’s office, the investigation was initiated by TSA.