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TSA workers in Puerto Rico ran $100 million cocaine smuggling ring: Prosecutors

February 14, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
TSA workers in Puerto Rico ran $100 million cocaine smuggling ring: Prosecutors

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One dozen airport and TSA workers have been taken into custody for their purported involvement in a large cocaine smuggling enterprise in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Attorney’s Office revealed on Monday.

The suspects are accused of helping to smuggle about 20 tons of cocaine through Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport over a duration of 18 years, from 1998 to 2016.

TSA spearheaded the probe as part of a continuing effort to target employee wrongdoing and reduce insider threats, The Washington Post reported.

The operation reportedly involved employees sneaking suitcases through TSA checkpoints at the airport and onto flights, with as many as five smugglers on some planes and in some cases, each mule would check two bags.

Six current and former TSA workers have been charged for their role in smuggling cocaine through X-ray scanners and onto planes without detection.

An Airport Aviation Services employee, who was a luggage handler and ramp worker, has been charged with paying TSA workers to clear bags filled with cocaine; taking the suitcases to their assigned flights, and giving a drug organization member the “all clear” for smugglers to board the flight.

Prosecutors charged current and former TSA agents in cocaine smuggling ring

“These individuals were involved in a conspiracy to traffic massive quantities of narcotics to the continental U.S.,” Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, the U.S. Attorney for Puerto Rico, stated. “These arrests demonstrate the success of the AirTAT initiative, which has allocated a group of state and federal law enforcement officers, whose mission is to ensure that airports are not used in drug traffickers’ illicit businesses.”

The DEA is in charge of the probe, in conjunction with the FBI, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Marshals, and Puerto Rican police.

The TSA has dealt with a number of high-profile security failures at airports in recent years, including a firearm-smuggling operation discovered at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport back in 2015.

Congress has tried to handle insider threats and vulnerabilities at airports. Policy makers attached language to an aviation bill in 2016 to extend the number of random inspections of airport employees at secure area access points. Congress also directed TSA to conduct a review of the insider threat posed by airport works, and to enhance employee vetting and eligibility standards.

However, a two-year probe from the House Homeland Security Committee found that most airports still lack complete employee screening procedures at secure access areas.

The report, which was published last week, also found inconsistencies across the aviation system in how airport and security officials train their credentialed populations about using their access and reporting suspicious activities.

“At a time when we face threats from homegrown radicalization and lone-wolf terrorism, we must ensure that airport access controls are strong and that we are doing all we can to mitigate the insider threat to aviation security,” Rep. John Katko, the chairman of Homeland Security’s Transportation and Protective Security Subcommittee, stated.

 

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