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Feds: Airline employees smuggled drugs through JFK

(AP) - A ring of corrupt airline employees exploitedweaknesses in security procedures to help a New York drug ringsmuggle heroin and cocaine through John F. Kennedy Airport, federalauthorities charged

News 12 Staff

Oct 17, 2007, 2:19 AM

Updated 6,117 days ago

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(AP) - A ring of corrupt airline employees exploitedweaknesses in security procedures to help a New York drug ringsmuggle heroin and cocaine through John F. Kennedy Airport, federalauthorities charged Tuesday. At least 18 people have been charged so far in the plot,including seven employees at Delta Air Lines, one at AmericanAirlines, and two others who worked at JFK. Several were arrested Tuesday in a roundup that followed a twoyear probe by U.S. customs agents. Prosecutors said the group concealed drugs in luggage on jetstraveling from the Dominican Republic, then retrieved the bags atJFK before they could be inspected by customs agents. The suspects include cargo and baggage handlers, an employee ofa global courier service and a "lookout" for the group who hadaccess to JFK's control tower through her job with Aramark, acleaning, maintenance and food service company. A U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agent said in a courtfiling that, in some cases, workers whose jobs gave them"virtually unfettered and unsupervised" access to arrivingflights simply turned up, removed the drug-filled bags from thejet's cargo hold, and walked off with them while taking care toavoid security cameras. "Conspiracies of this nature are particularly effective in thesmuggling of contraband into the United States," senior specialagent Meredith Leung said in a court affidavit. The agency said it began investigating in 2005 after a suitcasecontaining cocaine and heroin was seized at JFK after arriving on aDelta flight. Agents built the case by tapping the phones ofseveral suspects, including some whom attracted attention when theyturned up to unload bags on shifts when they weren't scheduled towork. Agents also intercepted the shipments of more than 100 pounds ofcocaine, 55 pounds of heroin and 6.6 pounds of the drug ecstasy. Prosecutors identified the leader of the drug ring as HenryPolanco, a 31-year-old resident of the Washington Heights sectionof Manhattan. They said the corrupt Delta employees were led byJorge Espinal, 38, a cargo supervisor for Delta. Both men were held without bail after an arraignment Tuesday onnarcotics conspiracy charges and were unavailable for comment. Anattorney for Espinal, Howard Jacobs, declined to discuss the case.A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn said he didn't knowif Polanco had an attorney yet. A Delta spokeswoman, Chris Kelly, said the airline has beencooperating with the probe for several months. Each of theimplicated employees have been suspended without pay, pending theoutcome of the investigation, she said. She added that Delta performs a background check on everyemployee with access to secure airport zones, and the workersarrested in this case appeared to have passed that check. An American Airlines spokesman confirmed that one of the mencharged in the case worked part time as a baggage handler, butdeclined to otherwise comment. A spokeswoman for Aramark alsodeclined to comment.


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