Hundreds of federal and state authorities conducted a drug sting at Puerto Rico's main airport on Wednesday in an attempt to shut down a major trafficking operation. Police arrested at least 33 people in connection with smuggling millions of dollars' worth of illegal narcotics aboard commercial flights.
Along with the arrest in Puerto Rico, police also arrested two workers at Miami International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, reported the Associated Press. All those arrested were reportedly members of two Puerto Rican-based drug cartels that often work with each run by one woman.
We have dismantled the two most significant drug operations at the airport, said Pedro Janer, acting special agent in charge of the DEA's Caribbean division, reported the AP.
The apprehended suspects are accused of transporting thousands of pounds of illegal narcotics, including cocaine and heroin, from Puerto Rico to several cities in the United States. The raid took place outside of Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, near San Juan, reported CNN.
Federal officials also plan to unseal related indictments on Wednesday and will charge others involved with using the main airport and other airports in the drug trafficking scheme, reported CNN.
More than 200 police officers and federal agents participated in the operation.
Janer said that workers would enter the airport with drugs in their bags, on themselves or in their personal vehicles. The workers would hand over the drugs to another person inside the bathrooms once they were able to clear security, according to reports.
We have a zero-tolerance policy for any employee when it comes to this type of activity, said Ed Martelle, a spokesman for American Airlines. He said that the company will assist officials in prosecuting the individuals responsible to the fullest extent of the law.
The arrests are part of a larger operation that began in September 2009, which targeted nine American Airlines' workers, who were accused of being part of the same drug organization.
Congress has recognized there's a problem, said Hector Pesquera, Puerto Rico's new police chief. He also said it should be easier for authorities to capture the smugglers because the drugs can only arrive by air or water.
It's not that difficult. We don't have tunnels. They can't drive it here.
Puerto Rico's governor, Luis Fortuno, said he will request more equipment and personnel from the United States Coast Guard, the DEA and other agencies to help in stopping the smuggling.
This is an issue of national security, he said, not just of Puerto Rico.