Dozens of Airlines Workers Arrested in Drug Probe

Dozens of Airlines Workers Arrested in Drug Probe
Posted by FoM on August 25, 1999 at 08:21:48 PT
Meg Richards, Associated Press Writer
Source: SF Gate
Dozens of American Airlines employees and contract workers were arrested today in a federal investigation into a drug ring that authorities said used the airline's planes to smuggle drugs into the United States.
``Basically these employees were smuggling drugs and distributing them themselves when they were off duty by flying, using their employee passes throughout the United States,'' said Bret Eaton, a federal Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman. By mid-morning, at least 37 people had been arrested at home and a few caught at Miami International Airport. Fifty-eight were named in multiple indictments resulting from the investigation called Operation Ramp Rat, Eaton said. The drugs, which included cocaine and marijuana, were taken to points including Philadelphia and San Juan. Eaton said some contraband was smuggled in airline food trays, and the people arrested included employees of American contractors such as Lufthansa Sky Chefs. American Airlines, based in Fort Worth, Texas, issued a statement saying the company cooperated in the investigation. ``While we are disturbed that a small group of employees were part of this smuggling ring, their activities have been under federal government and company surveillance for quite some time,'' the statement said. The people indicted were mainly ramp workers and baggage handlers, agents said. Two U.S. Immigration and Naturalization agents were arrested, and a Broward Sheriff's Office deputy who worked part time as a baggage handler was indicted, Eaton said. No one in management was arrested, and no American pilots or flight attendants were indicted, he said. ``Because it was an undercover operation, it's hard to judge, but they were making lots of money doing this, more than their salaries,'' Eaton said. Undercover agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also approached suspects, who used their security clearances to get contraband -- handguns and explosives provided by the agents -- onto airport ramps, where it was loaded onto planes, said Ed Halley, an ATF spokesman. ``Greed is the bottom line there. They did it all for a price,'' Halley said. Six people also were arrested in eastern New York state in a separate but related case, Eaton said, providing no details. MEG RICHARDS, Associated Press WriterWednesday, August 25, 1999 
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