4 Flight Attendants Locked Up In Wild Drug Money Scheme

Four flight attendants have been arrested and charged on Wednesday in connection with a “years-long” scheme to smuggle millions of dollars worth of drug money from New York City to the Caribbean, officials announced. The United States Attorney’s Office estimated that the defendants smuggled approximately $8m in “bulk cash” from the US to the Dominican Republic over a period of many years.

According to the US Attorney’s office, the defendants knowingly smuggled large amounts of illicit money linked to the sale of narcotics, including fentanyl, from the US and took advantage of airport security checkpoints by using their “trusted positions as flight attendants” at the John F Kennedy International Airport in New York. The defendants have been identified as Charlie Hernandez, 42, Sarah Valerio Pujols, 42, Emmanuel Torres, 34, and Jarol Fabio, 35.

Prosecutors explained that the defendants exploited their status as flight attendants to evade airport security and transport illegal funds between the US and the Dominican Republic. This was made possible due to their “Known Crewmember” status with TSA, which allowed them to bypass regular security checks, making it easier for them to move large sums of cash without being detected.

Authorities revealed that the investigation was aided by a cooperating witness who disclosed the methods used in the major money laundering operation at the airports. The witness alleged that flight attendants, like the defendants, were corrupted and paid to assist in transporting illegal funds between the two countries. In return, the flight attendants received a small percentage of the amount of money being smuggled.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Special Agent in Charge Ivan Arvelo issued a warning to all airline personnel, stating that law enforcement will not tolerate employees’ attempts to abuse their authority to transport illicit goods. He also noted that this case has exposed critical vulnerabilities in the airline security industry while also highlighting the tactics used by narcotics traffickers to move illegal funds.

US Attorney Damian Williams highlighted the seriousness of the charges against the flight attendants, stating that they allegedly smuggled millions of dollars of drug money with the help of their airline positions. Williams emphasized that today’s charges serve as a reminder to those who engage in similar activities that crime does not pay and they will be held accountable for their actions.

In addition, authorities stated that the investigation was ongoing and more defendants may be charged in connection with the scheme. As a result, the charges announced on Wednesday may be subject to change or be expanded in the future. The defendants face charges for operating an unlicensed money transmission business, which carries a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment, and entering an airport or aircraft area in violation of security requirements, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

The investigation into the scheme was the result of a multi-agency effort involving Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Internal Revenue Service- Criminal Investigation Division, the New York City Police Department, and the New York City Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor (SNP). Officials from these agencies played a critical role in exposing the methods used by the defendants to move illegal funds across international borders.

Members of the public have been urged to assist law enforcement by reporting any suspicious activities or behaviors observed at airports or any other locations related to the transport of illegal funds. Officials also affirmed that they will continue to work tirelessly to target individuals who engage in money laundering activities that facilitate the sale of illegal narcotics and other criminal activities.

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