Sunday, February 25, 2018

Drug rings with links to U.S. airports busted in Puerto Rico

ORLANDO — Dozens of baggage handlers accused of smuggling tons of cocaine from Puerto Rico through airports in Orlando, Miami and other East Coast cities were busted at San Juan's Luis Munoz Marin airport Wednesday, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Ferrying cocaine and smaller amounts of heroin, one of the two drug-trafficking rings investigated by authorities began shipping drugs in the late 1990s on American Airlines flights to Orlando, Miami, New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Newark.

The second ring uncovered by law enforcement was headed by a Maribel "Skinny Lady" Rodriguez-Fragoso, who ran an organization of 25 members that paid airport workers in San Juan to carry cocaine through employee entrances to waiting couriers and others who loaded drug-filled suitcases on aircraft, records state.

Together, the rings shipped about 28,000 pounds of cocaine to the U.S. mainland, DEA Chief Thomas Harrigan said at a news conference in San Juan.

So much cocaine was being smuggled that the rings did not slow despite losing as much as 200 pounds seized on some flights, according to the indictments released in San Juan on Wednesday. More than 45 suspects are named in two indictments, including 30 living on the island.

According to the DEA, the first ring had shipped about 9,000 kilograms of cocaine to the mainland since 1999. It also shipped 30 kilograms of heroin from 2009 through 2011. Ring members are also accused of smuggling large amounts of cash back to Puerto Rico from the drug sales.

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