Six current and six former TSA screening officers have been arrested for their involvement in a massive cocaine smuggling operation in Puerto Rico. On Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that 12 Transportation Security Administration employees have been indicted for their alleged role in smuggling cocaine through X-ray machines and onto airplanes without detection for nearly 20 years.
The TSA agents are accused of helping smuggle approximately 20 tons of cocaine into the United States the through Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport from 1998 to 2016. The operation allegedly involved employees smuggling suitcases through TSA checkpoints at the airport and onto flights.
An Airport Aviation Services worker, who was a baggage handler and ramp employee, is charged with paying TSA employees to clear the suitcases containing 17.6 lbs to 26.5 lbs of cocaine, then taking the suitcases to their designated flights. There was as many as five mules on some flights and each mule checking two suitcases in some cases.
The investigation was carried out by the Drug Enforcement Agency, 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 vulnerabilities. TSA has zero tolerance for employees engaged in criminal activity to facilitate contraband smuggling,” said José Baquero, Federal Security Director, Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands.
If convicted the defendants face a minimum sentence of 10 years up to life in prison for “conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine.”