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Human Smuggling/Trafficking

Former Delta Airlines employee sentenced to 121 months in prison for smuggling drugs into the United States

NEW YORK - A former Delta Airlines employee, who previously pleaded guilty to smuggling drugs, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and five years supervised release following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Jorge Espinal, 40, of Brooklyn, N.Y. pleaded guilty to his role as a ringleader of a corrupt group of Delta employees who off-loaded smuggled drugs from commercial aircraft arriving in the United States from the Dominican Republic and elsewhere. The group would retrieve the drugs and circumvent further inspection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) authorities.

In his former position with Delta Airlines, Espinal was an airport loading agent who routinely had unrestricted access to international cargo and passenger flights arriving into John F. Kennedy International airport. Espinal and his group off-loaded heroin and cocaine secretly hidden within luggage onboard Delta Airlines airplanes. The group would then move the drugs to a safe area out of reach from all forms of customs and border inspection for a later pick-up.

"This sentencing sends a strong message that corrupt airline employees who conspire to smuggle drugs through our airports will not go unnoticed, "said Peter J. Smith, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in New York. "ICE is committed to dismantling criminal organizations responsible for smuggling illegal drugs into the United States."

Espinal's sentencing is a result of Operation Fowl Play, an ICE-led investigation coordinated with assistance from CBP, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Notopoulous with the Eastern District of New York