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November 4, 2016San Juan, PR, United StatesContraband

Former Puerto Rico TSA employee indicted, arrested for drug trafficking

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A former Transportation Security Administration (TSA) employee and another individual were arrested Friday in Carolina and Bayamon, respectively, for drug trafficking. The investigation that spurred the arrests was led by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) with the assistance of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), TSA and the Puerto Rico Police Department.

The indictment, unsealed Friday, alleges that from on-or-about 2008, Jose Cruz-Lopez smuggled kilogram quantities of cocaine while employed as a TSA officer at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport (LMMIA) in San Juan.

According to the charging document, Cruz-Lopez worked at the TSA X-ray machine at the airport where he allegedly cleared suitcases containing kilograms of cocaine by allowing them to pass through the X-ray machines and onto airplanes without detection. 

In 2008, Edwin Francisco Castro began assisting Cruz-Lopez with the drug smuggling ventures. Castro was employed by Empresas Santana, an airport service company, as a supervisor in the wheelchair section at LMMIA.

During the course of the conspiracy, Cruz-Lopez and Castro smuggled suitcases containing at least eight-to-12 kilograms of cocaine through the TSA security system at LMMIA. From 2008 through 2016, both men smuggled approximately 1,500 kilograms of cocaine through the airport.

The indictment further alleges that Cruz-Lopez, in his capacity as a TSA employee, was a public official who accepted bribe payments. He took multiple cash payments totaling in excess of $215,000 in exchange for allowing luggage, which he knew contained kilogram quantities of cocaine, to bypass normal baggage screening procedures. These pieces of luggage were then placed on outbound airplanes departing the LMMIA for destinations in the continental United States.

This case is part of the ongoing efforts of the ICE HSI-led Airport Investigations and Tactical Team (AirTAT) initiative launched in January 2015. AirTAT is a multi-agency initiative created to identify, locate, disrupt, dismantle, and prosecute domestic and transnational criminal organizations and its operatives using the LMMIA, the Isla Grande and peripheral airports as platforms to smuggle narcotics, weapons, human cargo, counterfeit documents, illicit proceeds, and others. These airports play a strategic role for drug trafficking organizations to conduct contraband smuggling activities inbound and outbound to the continental United States as well as internationally.  

If convicted the defendants face a minimum sentence of 10 years up to life in prison.