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2 charged in drug smuggling scheme involving Philadelphia International Airport

PHILADELPHIA — Two Pennsylvania residents were charged Friday in a six-count indictment involving an alleged drug trafficking organization. The investigation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Philadelphia Police Department, the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General's Bureau of Narcotics Investigations and US Airways Corporate Security.

Jose Rodriguez, 25, of Sharon Hill, Pa., and Edwin Fernandez, 35, of Philadelphia, were charged in a six count indictment. U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger announced the charges. Both individuals were arrested Thursday.

The defendants are charged with conspiracy to import five kilograms or more of cocaine, importation of five kilograms or more of cocaine, attempted importation of five kilograms or more of cocaine, conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, and two counts of attempted possession with the intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine.

According to the indictment, between December 2011 and July 2012, Rodriguez and Fernandez worked with a Dominican Republic drug trafficking organization (Santo Domingo DTO) to smuggle at least 71 kilograms of cocaine into the United States through the Philadelphia International Airport. Rodriguez, an employee of US Airways, recruited other US Airways employees to assist in the smuggling of bags which contained kilograms of cocaine.

The indictment further alleges that the Santo Domingo DTO employed several individuals, including airport employees in Santo Domingo, to ensure that bags filled with kilograms of cocaine were safely loaded onboard commercial airplanes destined for Philadelphia. After the bags were safely loaded onto the plane in Santo Domingo, members of the Santo Domingo DTO alerted Fernandez and Rodriguez, who then notified the recruits to assist in the offloading of the bags at the Philadelphia Airport. Once the plane arrived in Philadelphia, the recruited US Airways employees would offload the baggage from the plane and divert the bags with the drugs onto domestic baggage claim belts, rather than the international baggage claim belts. This avoided inspection by CBP. Fernandez and Rodriguez then arranged for those bags to be retrieved from domestic baggage claim belts for distribution elsewhere.

According to the indictment, on Jan. 7, 2012, CBP recovered three bags which contained approximately 50.81 kilograms of cocaine that had been offloaded from an incoming US Airways Flight from Santo Domingo to Philadelphia. Additionally, on April 14, 2012, law enforcement officials in Santo Domingo recovered a suitcase filled with approximately 20.84 kilograms of cocaine intended to be loaded onto a US Airways flight destined for Philadelphia.

If convicted, each defendant faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison with a maximum possible sentence of life.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Maureen McCartney and Kishan Nair.

The charge and allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent, unless and until, proven guilty.