22 people were arrested Tuesday amidst allegations of smuggling drugs from Puerto Rico into the US on American Airlines planes. Nine of the people arrested were employees of the airline, who allegedly sent over 9,000 kilograms – almost 20,000 pounds – of cocaine to US destinations that included Miami, Orlando and New Jersey. According to the US Justice Department, the ring has been operating since 1999.
The workers are a mix of ground crew and baggage handlers who are suspected of using suitcases to smuggle the drugs onto the planes. According to the AP release, Puerto Rico is a popular entry choice for drug traffickers, as once the drugs reach the island, they don’t have to pass through customs in the US.
Agents from the FBI and DEA arrested the suspects at locations in Miami and Puerto Rico in a joint effort cleverly named “Operation Heavy Cargo”. If convicted, the suspects face life in prison and fines up to $4 million.
American Airlines issued a statement saying, “As a company, we hope that the actions of a few employees don’t reflect negatively on the tens of thousands of ethical American Airlines employees who work hard to serve the public daily.”