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Airline workers among 18 people charged with drug trafficking at JFK

  • Story Highlights
  • Drugs were allegedly hidden in luggage on flights from the Dominican Republic
  • Delta, American Airlines and Aramark employees allegedly used in the plot
  • The charges are a result of a two-year investigation
  • Next Article in U.S. »
By Laura Batchelor
CNN
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Eighteen people, including 10 airline workers at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, appeared in federal court Tuesday on international drug smuggling and distribution charges.

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Authorities say they've arrested 18 people in connection with a drug smuggling ring at JFK airport.

The drugs were hidden in luggage on international commercial flights from the Dominican Republic to JFK, the complaint alleges.

Once the luggage arrived, it was relocated to a "safe" area, hidden from law enforcement, it says.

While the diversion was taking place, the defendants used lookouts to watch for law officers.

The leader of the defendants was Henry Polanco, who dealt with the drug suppliers in the Dominican Republic, according to the complaint.

He used employees from Delta, American Airlines and food-services company Aramark to help smuggle the drugs into the United States, the complaint says.

The defendants were arrested earlier Tuesday and gave no comment as they were escorted into a U.S. Marshals Service bus.

The case "illustrates how conspiracy to smuggle drugs into the U.S. among airport employees compromised our border security," said Mark Lorenti, a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in a statement. Video Watch Lorenti talk about the case »

The charges are a result of a two-year investigation, during which federal agents found 46 kilograms (101 pounds) of cocaine, 25 kilograms (55 pounds) of heroin and 3 kilograms (6 pounds) of MDMA (ecstasy), according to a Justice Department news release.

The Drug Enforcement Administration said the street value of the drugs is $875,000 for the cocaine, $1.1 million for the heroin and $75,000 for the ecstasy.

Delta Air Lines spokeswoman Chris Kelly said the carrier was aware of the investigation and cooperated with authorities.

"The seven Delta employees who are charged are being suspended without pay," she said.

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Seven of the suspects are being held without bail, while bail for the remaining 11 was set between $250,000 to $500,000, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

None of the suspects entered pleas Tuesday. It is unclear when they will next appear in court. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Sarah B. Boxer contributed to this report.

All About U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs EnforcementU.S. Drug Enforcement AdministrationDominican Republic

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