NEWARK – Federal agents arrested three current and former Continental Airlines employees who have been charged with participating in an alleged conspiracy to smuggle cocaine into the United States through Newark Liberty International Airport, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced Tuesday.
Yunior Lopez, 25, of Elizabeth; Amaurys Caminero, 29, of Linden; and Kerlwin Taveras, 27, of Bronx, N.Y., were each charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, authorities said.
The arrests were precipitated by the latest seizure of cocaine – over 47 kilograms – at Newark Liberty International Airport over Labor Day weekend, according to authorities. Lopez and Caminero were arrested at the airport Sept. 4 and Sept. 5, respectively. Taveras was picked Monday night in the Bronx. All three defendants were detained following an appearance Tuesday afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Claire C. Cecchi in Newark federal court.
According to the criminal complaints filed Tuesday, Lopez and Caminero are employed by Continental Airlines as baggage handlers at Newark Liberty International Airport, while Taveras is a former baggage handler for the airline.
Lopez, Caminero, and co-conspirators, including other Continental employees, allegedly conspired to smuggle cocaine into the United States through the airport. The cocaine was put aboard flights in the Dominican Republic, usually packaged in gym bags with hand-written luggage tags that indicated they had been checked at the departing gate.
Once the planes landed in Newark, Lopez, Caminero, and others allegedly arranged to remove the cocaine from the airplanes, take it from the airport, and facilitate its distribution in the New Jersey and New York areas.
Over the course of the investigation, law enforcement officers intercepted numerous communications in support of the alleged conspiracy and made five separate seizures of significant quantities of cocaine, totaling about 125 kilograms.
Fishman said, “Criminals may think that having inside operators at airports will save them from detection, but they underestimate our commitment to and focus on the integrity of those who work there. We will continue to come down hard on anyone who tries to compromise the security of the planes on which we fly or to bring drugs into the neighborhoods in which we live.”
“Regardless of their role in a drug trafficking organization, persons engaged in the illegal importation of narcotics into the United States through our nation’s airports are on notice that ICE will use all of its investigative resources to disrupt and dismantle these criminal enterprises, large or small, and bring them to justice,” said Peter T. Edge, special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations in Newark.
If convicted, each of the defendants faces a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years in prison, and a maximum potential penalty of life in prison and a $4 million fine, authorities said.
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