As Rick James eloquently put it, “Cocaine is a hell of a drug.” And because coke is such an in-demand and illegal commodity, people have to get pretty creative when it comes to smuggling it into the United States. Enter the Transportation Security Administration.
Six current and six former TSA screening officers have been arrested for participating in an ambitious cocaine smuggling operation in Puerto Rico for nearly two decades. Earlier this week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that 12 TSA employees have been hit with indictments for allegedly smuggling cocaine, making it past X-ray machines and onto airplanes for 18 years.
From 1998 to 2016, it is believed these TSA agents shipped roughly 20 tons of cocaine into the States through Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. How did they do it? By allegedly smuggling suitcases full of drugs through TSA checkpoints and onto departing flights. One Airport Aviation Services employee, who worked as a baggage handler and ramp operator, is charged with bribing TSA employees to clear suitcases containing between 17.6 lbs and 26.5 lbs of cocaine before taking the suitcases to their designated flights. The operation sometimes involved as many as five passengers carrying two cocaine-filled suitcases per person on a single flight.
The Drug Enforcement Agency took the lead on the investigation with assistance from the FBI, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Marshals and Puerto Rican police.
“This investigation was initiated by TSA as part of its efforts to address employee misconduct and specific insider threat invulnerabilities,” José Baquero, Federal Security Director, Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands, said. “TSA has zero tolerance for employees engaged in criminal activity to facilitate contraband smuggling.”
For the charge of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, the defendants face a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.