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26 charged with smuggling cocaine to U.S. mainland from Puerto Rico’s International Airport

April 14, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
26 charged with smuggling cocaine to U.S. mainland from Puerto Rico’s International Airport

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Federal officials have broken up a $4 million drug-trafficking operation at Puerto Rico’s international airport that utilized on restrooms and garbage chutes to sneak cocaine onto the U.S. mainland.

Twenty-six suspects have been indicted in the case including airline staff, airport employees, and restaurant workers, according to an ICE press release.

The majority were taken into custody before dawn at the Luis Munoz Marin Puerto Rico’s International Airport in San Juan, which authorities said acts as the largest drug distribution hub in the Caribbean.

“Today we have brought operations to a grinding halt,” U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez stated.

Operation Air Bus led to 26 arrests for drug trafficking, money laundering in Puerto Rico

Among the articles seized from the suspects were jewelry, property, and a tiger that officials said the group’s leader kept as a pet. Rodriguez said agents gave him the nickname “Tony the Tiger.”

She added that the suspects transported drugs on flights destined for New York, Miami, and Philadelphia. Among the airlines targeted were American, JetBlue, and Southwest.

Officials said drug mules would pick up the cocaine in restroom stalls after going through TSA security.

The drugs also were smuggled on board DHL cargo planes and by American Airlines staff who would put stickers on baggage claiming it had been cleared. American Airlines employees also would ship the drugs as cargo with no cost.

Drug trafficking organization operated from the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport

In a statement, American Airlines said that they are cooperating with the investigation.

Authorities said employees at the Air Margaritaville restaurant at the airport also snuck in cocaine through garbage chutes.

They said the suspects would pick up the cocaine from the trash, place it in their locker, take it to the dishwashing room and then hand it over it to drug couriers inside of coffee bags, with up to 9 pounds of cocaine stuffed inside each bag.

The arrests occurred just months after security screeners and airport workers at the same airport were busted with helping smuggle 20 tons of cocaine during an 18-year investigation that concluded last year.

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