Feds Charge 18 Airline Employees With Smuggling Drugs Through JFK


Registered User
Jan 26, 2005
Nice security that they have..............

NEW YORK (AP) -- A ring of corrupt airline employees exploited weaknesses in security procedures to help a New York drug ring smuggle heroin and cocaine through John F. Kennedy Airport, federal authorities charged Tuesday.

At least 18 people have been charged so far in the plot, including seven employees at Delta Air Lines, one at American Airlines, and two others who worked at JFK.

Several were arrested Tuesday in a roundup that followed a two year probe by U.S. customs agents.

Prosecutors said the group concealed drugs in luggage on jets traveling from the Dominican Republic, then retrieved the bags at JFK before they could be inspected by customs agents.

The suspects include cargo and baggage handlers, an employee of a global courier service and a "lookout'' for the group who had access to JFK's tower through her job with Aramark, a cleaning, maintenance and food service company.

A U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agent said in a court filing that, in some cases, workers whose jobs gave them "virtually unfettered and unsupervised'' access to arriving flights simply turned up, removed the drug-filled bags from the jet's cargo hold, and walked off with them while taking care to avoid security cameras.

"Conspiracies of this nature are particularly effective in the smuggling of contraband into the United States,'' senior special agent Meredith Leung said in a court affidavit.

The agency said it began investigating in 2005 after a suitcase containing cocaine and heroin was seized at JFK after arriving on a Delta flight. Agents built the case by tapping the phones of several suspects, including some whom attracted attention when they turned up to unload bags on shifts when they weren't scheduled to work.

Agents also intercepted the shipments of more than 100 pounds of cocaine, 55 pounds of heroin and 6.6 pounds of the drug ecstasy.

Prosecutors identified the leader of the drug ring as Henry Polanco, a 31-year-old resident of the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. They said the corrupt Delta employees were led by Jorge Espinal, 38, a cargo supervisor for Delta.

Both men were held without bail after an arraignment Tuesday on narcotics conspiracy charges and were unavailable for comment. An attorney for Espinal, Howard Jacobs, declined to discuss the case. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn said he didn't know if Polanco had an attorney yet.

A Delta spokeswoman, Chris Kelly, said the airline has been cooperating with the probe for several months. Each of the implicated employees have been suspended without pay, pending the outcome of the investigation, she said.

She added that Delta performs a background check on every employee with access to secure airport zones, and the workers arrested in this case appeared to have passed that check.

An American Airlines spokesman confirmed that one of the men charged in the case worked part time as a baggage handler, but declined to otherwise comment. A spokeswoman for Aramark said she was unaware of the case.