Delta employees arrested in Detroit airport for international drug smuggling

April 29th, 2011 - 5:28 am ICT by BNO News  

DETROIT, MICHIGAN (BNO NEWS) — Federal agents on Thursday arrested 12 people, including ten current or former Delta Airlines employees, for their alleged participation in international drug trafficking operations at airports in Detroit, Michigan and Houston, Texas.

In an investigation that began in January 2010 and dubbed “Operation Excess Baggage,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents from the ICE’s attaché office in Kingston, Jamaica, contacted Detroit-based HSI special agents to alert them of a seizure by Jamaican Customs of approximately 53 pounds of marijuana.

The seizure was discovered in a suitcase on Northwest Airlines (now Delta) flight number 2321, which was bound for Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW) from Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

The suitcase was tagged with a Northwest Airlines baggage tag, bearing the name of an uninvolved passenger, but agents suspected that additional baggage containing narcotics might still be on the aircraft destined for Detroit.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at DTW were notified, and HSI agents, along with CBP officers, seized an additional five suitcases containing nearly 16 kilograms of cocaine and close to 130 kilograms of marijuana.

Initial investigations suggested internal involvement of Delta/Northwest employees, and during a March 18, 2010 surveillance operation, agents seized an additional 45 pounds of marijuana from two Delta/Northwest employees at DTW.

The individuals were alleged participants in another smuggling operation between Houston and Detroit, and a separate Houston-based investigation was then launched.

Earlier in the month, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan issued 12 sealed complaints for these individuals known to have participated in these drug smuggling operations.

Ten were issued for current or former Delta/Northwest employees stationed at DTW or at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, and two additional warrants were issued for individuals involved in the scheme who were not airline employees.

“Today’s arrests and charges close a major vulnerability at the airport,” said ICE Director John Morton. “We can’t have people working in and around aircraft exploiting their positions for criminal ends.”

All 12 individuals were charged with drug trafficking and related charges, including conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute and illegal importation of narcotics.

Penalties involving the shipment of cocaine and marijuana range from 10 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $10,000,000 for cocaine, along with five years to 40 years in prison for marijuana.

In the case of the marijuana shipment from Houston to Detroit, the penalty for less than 50 kilograms of marijuana is up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

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