A massive narcotics smuggling operation that exploited airport security measures was broken up Tuesday with the arrest of 25 people, mostly current or former employees at Kennedy Airport, Newsday reports.
The alleged smuggling ring, which is accused of slipping tens of millions of dollars worth of cocaine and marijuana into the United States, represented “a potential threat to homeland security,” said Michael Garcia, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“A network of corrupt airport employees, motivated by greed, might just as well have been collaborating with terrorists as with drug smugglers,” Garcia said in announcing the arrests.
The 25 defendants were charged with conspiracy to import narcotics, and each faces up to life imprisonment and a $4-million fine, federal officials said.
The suspects include one former and 19 current employees – baggage and cargo handlers and their supervisors – at Kennedy. Another was identified as a current employee at Miami International Airport.
Authorities said the airport workers were employed by American, Delta and United airlines and five other smaller companies: Globe Ground North American, Evergreen Eagle, Hudson General, Swissport USA and Flying Foods.
Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf said the defendants capitalized on their status as airport employees to circumvent inspection procedures in importing massive amounts of narcotics over the last decade.
Authorities said the defendants handled as much as 185 kilograms of cocaine at a time, secreted within the interior of planes, as well as in the luggage and cargo stored on board arriving international flights.
During a 14-month investigation, federal agents seized more than 400 kilograms (nearly 882 pounds) of cocaine and hundreds of pounds of marijuana arriving at Kennedy, mostly from Guyana and Jamaica.
In making Tuesday’s arrests, agents seized about $500,000 in cash, five handguns and four vehicles at some of the suspects’ homes.