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2 former airline workers at JFK indicted on drug smuggling charges

By Deb Feyerick, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • They used commercial aircraft to smuggle cocaine and marijuana, officials say
  • Officials allege the operation lasted from 2000 to 2009
  • The alleged ringleader's mother also is in custody
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New York (CNN) -- Two former airline workers at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport have been indicted on charges they ran an elaborate drug trafficking scheme, smuggling cocaine into the United States on commercial jetliners, federal officials announced Thursday.

Former American Airlines baggage handler Victor Bourne, 35, and dispatching crew chief Miguel Bozza, 48, are accused of importing 330 pounds (150 kilos) of cocaine and more than 12,000 pounds (5,500 kilos) of marijuana into New York, stowing it on board American Airlines flights traveling from the Caribbean.

"The use of commercial aircraft to smuggle narcotics creates a serious threat to both national security and public safety," said James Hayes of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

Bourne, a Barbadian national, is described by federal authorities as the ringleader, allegedly recruiting airline employees to stow the drugs in airplanes' cargo holds. Once the planes arrived at JFK, federal authorities say, dispatching crew chiefs, including Bozza, assigned "crews of baggage handlers, who were paid by the Bourne organization to retrieve the cocaine upon arrival."

The baggage handlers and ground crews servicing the arriving aircraft had security clearances that gave them access to the tarmac and planes. Hayes said the arrests highlight the need to better scrutinize airline employees with access to sensitive areas.

According to the newly unsealed indictment, Bourne "employed threats and the actual use of violence ... to collect drug debts and deter members of the organization from cooperating with law enforcement."

Bourne's mother, Maria Alleyne Bourne, 51, also is charged, accused of aiding in the conspiracy, which ran from 2000 to 2009. Bourne allegedly used a Brooklyn-based footwear business to shield the smuggling and distribution operations.

"We will continue to investigate and prosecute workers at our ports of entry who threaten the integrity of our borders," said Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Federal officials say they're trying to seize, as part of civil forfeiture, more than $316 million they say came from the smuggling operation.

American Airlines did not respond to several calls seeking comment.

Bourne is in custody at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. He and his mother were scheduled to be arraigned Thursday afternoon before federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who once served as the chief counsel of the Federal Aviation Administration.