A US Airways employee and a man with alleged ties to a Dominican Republic drug-trafficking operation have been charged with smuggling cocaine into the United States through Philadelphia International Airport.
Federal prosecutors in Philadelphia said today that 25-year-old Jose Rodriguez, of Sharon Hill, and 35-year-old Edwin Fernandez, of Philadelphia, engaged in a conspiracy to import the cocaine between December 2011 and July 2012 by working with a Santo Domingo-based cocaine-distribution organization.
They were indicted on charges that include conspiracy to import cocaine, importation of cocaine, attempted importation of cocaine and conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
Rodriguez was a US Airways employee and recruited other US Airways workers to assist in the smuggling, prosecutors said. The operation brought at least 71 kilograms -- more than 156 pounds -- of cocaine through the airport, authorities said.
Fernandez was a "close associate" of the leader of the Dominican operation, the indictment says. The Santo Domingo operation had several airport workers there ensure bags of cocaine were loaded onto commercial planes headed to Philadelphia, according to prosecutors.
Rodriguez and Fernandez were then notified, the indictment says, and they and other recruited US Airways workers offloaded the baggage in Philadelphia. No other US Airways employees were named in the indictment.
The indictment says they would get the drugs past Customs and Border Protection officials by diverting the bags to domestic baggage claims belts, rather than the international baggage claim. Fernandez and Rodriguez then arranged for the luggage to be picked up at the baggage claim for further distribution, prosecutors say.
For a December 2011 shipment, the indictment says, Rodriguez instructed another US Airways worker to make sure to be assigned to the crew that offloaded bags from a US Airways flight that departed from the Dominican Republic. The worker then obtained the black Nike duffel bag containing the cocaine, authorities said, and Rodriguez told the worker which domestic belt to place it on.
They allegedly repeated that routine at least two more times that month.
But in early January 2012, the worker told Rodriguez that three cocaine-filled duffel bags couldn't be diverted to the domestic baggage claim because CBP officials were monitoring the offloading process, according to the indictment. CBP workers seized the bags, which contained about 50 kilograms -- 110 pounds -- of cocaine.
The indictments says another attempted shipment went awry in April 2012, when cocaine was confiscated by Dominican law enforcement because Santo Domingo drug traffickers "forgot to pay off the drug inspector dude down there," Rodriguez told another US Airways worker.
That suitcase was filled with nearly 21 kilograms, or about 46 pounds, of cocaine, prosecutors said.
The men would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years behind bars if convicted, and could receive life in prison.