NEWARK, N.J. - A Perth Amboy, N.J., man pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court to conspiring to distribute heroin using inbound international flights to Newark Liberty International Airport, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Joseph Muniz, 59, entered a guilty before U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton on a charge of conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute more than one kilogram of heroin. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $4 million fine.
According to court documents, Muniz admitted that from September 2007 through March 2008, he played a role in an international narcotics trafficking operation bringing heroin from Colombia. Muniz, who was employed as a Continental Airlines aircraft mechanic, accessed an inbound flight to retrieve packages of heroin that had been hidden in passenger seat life jacket compartments.
"The movement of illegal, dangerous drugs into the United States will not be tolerated," said Peter J. Fox, deputy special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Newark. "HSI will use its full statutory authority and work tirelessly with our law enforcement partners to bring these criminals to justice."
The disruption of the network followed an extensive law enforcement operation involving the use of confidential informants, electronic surveillance and a federally-authorized wiretap investigation. The participants in the drug trafficking network used Continental Airlines planes and equipment to import narcotics into the United States for subsequent distribution to purchasers in New Jersey and surrounding areas.
Muniz also admitted delivering packages containing heroin to his co-conspirator, Jose Moreno, 46, of Kenilworth, N.J., in exchange for payment. Moreno and co-conspirator Edward Cortes Romero, 50, of Cali, Colombia, previously pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme and await sentencing.
This investigation was carried out by ICE HSI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department and Union County Prosecutor's Office.
A sentencing date has not been scheduled.