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TSA and police officers arrested in prescription drug bust

By Julia Talanova, CNN
  • Five officers accused of taking bribes to pass drugs through airports
  • Traveler made payoffs so he could smuggle oxycodone, DEA says
  • Suspects face up to 20 years in jail and $1 million fine

New York (CNN) -- Three Transportation Security Administration officers and two police officers are among 20 people arrested Tuesday on charges of conspiring to distribute tens of thousands of oxycodone painkillers for illegal sale from Florida to Connecticut, according to U.S. Attorney of Connecticut David B. Fein.

According to court documents, TSA and law enforcement officers accepted cash and gift cards to allow large quantities of the prescription drug and large sums of money to be transported between Florida and New York airports.

"In these times no one needs to be reminded about how dangerous it is when officers who have sworn to uphold the law accept money to 'look the other way'," Fein said.

"Operation Blue Coast" began with an arrest at a hotel in Stamford, Connecticut, on April 8, in which DEA officers recovered 6,000 oxycodone pills from a man who traveled from Florida to Connecticut., officials said.

According to court documents, the man revealed that he traveled back and fourth several times a week over the course of a year, buying drugs in Florida and transporting them to Connecticut through commercial airlines and by automobile. He said he sold the drugs to traffickers in Connecticut for a profit.

"Prescription pain medication abuse is rampant in New England and this trafficking group allegedly preyed upon the individuals to line their pockets, while the law enforcement officers are alleged to have sold their badges and abused their authority to further the illegal activities of this organization," according to a statement by Steven Derr of the DEA.

According to the DEA, to transport up to 8,000 pills per trip, the man said he paid off the arrested TSA officers who screened the passengers and luggage at the Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, Florida, and Westchester County Airport in White Plains, New York. He told the DEA he also paid more than $20,000 to TSA officers in New York to make sure he could pass with large sums of cash, the profits from his drug trafficking.

"TSA holds its security officers to the highest professional and ethical standards and has a zero tolerance policy for criminal activity in the workplace," said TSA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein in a written statement. "The actions of a few individuals in no way reflect on the outstanding job our more than 50,000 security officers do every day to ensure the security of the traveling public."

The informant also allegedly paid off Florida State Trooper Justin Kolves, 28, by giving his fiancÚ, Jessica Douglas, 28, checks in exchange for a free pass for anyone transporting narcotics or currency driving through Central Florida.

In addition to Kolves and Douglas, the arrested include Christopher Allen, 45, and John Best, 30, TSA officers based at the Palm Beach International Airport; Brigitte Jones, 48, a TSA officer based at Westchester County Airport in New York; and Michael Brady, 36, a New York police officer employed by the Westchester County Department of Public Safety, who allegedly accepted cash in Connecticut and New York in exchange for passing drug profits through the airport without detection. Fourteen others were arrested. If convicted they face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.