CNN logo

Infoseek/Big Yellow

Pathfinder/Warner Bros

Barnes and Noble

Main banner

American Airlines mechanics charged with smuggling narcotics

Airline Drug Smuggling In this story: July 31, 1997
Web posted at: 7:49 p.m. EDT (2349 GMT)

MIAMI (CNN) -- Six American Airlines mechanics were charged Thursday with helping to smuggle cocaine and heroin into the United States aboard passenger jets from Colombia.

It was the second time in two days that airline mechanics had been charged with drug smuggling. On Wednesday, 12 past and current Delta Air Lines workers were charged with smuggling cocaine into the United States through Puerto Rico.

The American Airlines mechanics -- and a seventh who was being sought -- were believed to have unloaded "significant" quantities of cocaine and heroin, authorities said.

"The cocaine and heroin was concealed in parts of the aircraft that were accessible only to certified aircraft mechanics," said Paul Mallett of the FBI.

The compartments were in auxiliary power units, bathrooms and the food service area. About 130 pounds (60 kilograms) of cocaine was discovered by American Airlines employees in Dallas.

Jose Felipe Chetrancola, 24; Robert Granados, 52; Carlos Antonio Rodriguez, 34; Jose Rubio, 48; Carlos Arce, 27; and Mario Humberto Gomez, 35, all of Miami, were charged with conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute narcotics. Each count carries a minimum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine.

Unsolved murder being investigated

Stacks of confiscated cocaine

Authorities said another American Airlines mechanic, Carlos Arturo Bermejo, 41, of Miami, was also charged in the conspiracy and was considered a fugitive.

Another mechanic believed to be a member of the ring, Martin Flaquer, was murdered in Florida in April 1996. It was not clear whether the slaying had anything to do with the smuggling operation, authorities say.

"This case began as what we like to term a historical conspiracy involving mechanics down in Columbia as well as mechanics up here in Miami," said William Mitchell of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Federal agents said the airline cooperated with the FBI during the investigation.

"American works closely with law enforcement organizations throughout the world on a wide range of matters, and cooperated fully with the FBI in the investigation that led to the arrests announced today," an American spokesman said in a recorded message.

The agents also said the American Airlines arrests were not connected to the Delta case. The DEA said the Delta employees put suitcases and cargo containers filled with cocaine aboard Delta planes bound for the United States.

Federal agents infiltrated both operations

Nine people have been arrested in the Delta case, and three more were being sought.

The Caribbean has become major cocaine way-station in recent years, as tons of Colombian cocaine is moved through the islands to Miami, where organized distribution rings ship it to the rest of the country.

In both cases, federal agents infiltrated the operations and made the arrests.

Correspondent Robert Vito and Reuters contributed to this report.

CNN Plus  

Related story:

Related sites:

Note: Pages will open in a new browser window

External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

Search for related CNN stories:
Tip: You can restrict your search to the title of a document. Infoseek grfk

Example: title:New Year's Resolutions

Message Boards

Sound off on our message boards

Tell us what you think!

You said it...
To the top

© 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

Terms under which this service is provided to you.