An American Airlines mechanic at JFK airport was arraigned in court on Monday. He is charged with participating in a drug-smuggling conspiracy after agents found 25 pounds of cocaine hidden in an external compartment of one of the carrier’s jets.
Stashed on a flight from Jamaica
It was back on February 5th this year that airport authorities arrested the American Airlines mechanic. This came after a package containing 25 pounds of cocaine was discovered in an external mechanical compartment on one of the carrier’s aircraft.
Flight AA1349 had just arrived the day before from Montego Bay, Jamaica, to JFK, New York, when a routine search by the JFK Anti-Terrorism Contraband Enforcement Team revealed the illicit cargo.
As the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) reports in a statement seen by Simple Flying, the package discovered during the search contained 25.56 pounds (11.6 kg) of cocaine bricks.
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Potential life imprisonment
The agents began surveillance, waiting to see who was going to come for the bricks. Just before the plane was about to depart again for its next destination, the mechanic later arrested was spotted heading to the compartment.
When he exited the chamber, he was intercepted carrying an empty tool bag and sporting a jacket with cut-outs in the lining. Combined, these would have provided him enough space to carry the drugs.
The 52-year-old man is now being charged with conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, conspiracy to import cocaine and importation of cocaine. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Simple Flying reached out to American for a comment on the indictment of their employee and received the following statement:
“At American, we have an unwavering commitment to the safety and security of our customers and team members. We take this matter very seriously and continue to cooperate with law enforcement throughout their investigation.”
Previous smuggling operations
This is not the first time American Airlines’ staff have been implicated in drug smuggling. Back in 2009, 23 people, including nine of the airline’s employees, were charged with operating a smuggling ring.
At that time, it was ground crew employed by the carrier at San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. Traffickers had enlisted them to pack suitcases full of cocaine and load them onto flights from Puerto Rico to the US mainland. The bags were then packed in airline shipping containers and equipped with luggage tags.
Each suitcase held about 66 pounds (30kg) of cocaine. By the time the authorities caught them, the smugglers had already transported roughly 20,000 pounds (9,000kg) of the drug on American Airlines’ flights.
One of the carrier’s employees in Miami, who coordinated the movement of the shipping containers onto convertor belts upon arrival, was also indicted.
Heroin-laced coffee in the cockpit
Even further back, in 1999, 37 American Airlines workers were among 50 people charged as part of a drug-smuggling ring. The group’s operations came to light after a flight attendant unwittingly served heroin-laced coffee to one of the airline’s pilots. Apparently, the drugs had been stashed not only under floorboards of the planes but even in coffee pot filters.