FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 4, 2006
DEA Public Affairs
Officers and Airline Employee Arrested in Colombia
(New York-NY)-John P. Gilbride, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's New York Field Division and Michael J. Garcia, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the arrests in Colombia of seven defendants, including corrupt Colombian police officers and a corrupt employee of Avianca Airlines, in connection with an indictment charging them with smuggling more than $10 million worth of cocaine through the El Dorado International Airport in Bogotá, Colombia, for importation into the United States.
"Narco-terrorism is a real threat to the security of the United States and we must never let our guard down," said Gilbride. "This operation sends a strong signal to traffickers worldwide that the international drug enforcement community will continue to aggressively pursue any potential compromise to airport security."
The arrests announced today were the result of “Operation Caso Dorado,” a joint investigation conducted by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) in New York and Bogotá, Colombia, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York with the cooperation of the United States Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) and Colombian and Mexican law enforcement authorities.
More than ever, the public must be able to rely on the integrity of the law enforcement and airline personnel responsible for the safety of airline passengers and shipments,” stated Mr. Garcia. “When such officials allow smuggling of contraband destined for the United States, they violate our criminal laws and endanger our national security, and they will face justice in an American courtroom."
The indictment charges LEONIDAS MOLINA-TRIANA, a/k/a “Sofoco,” a/k/a “Don Oscar,” a former Major in the Colombian National Police (“CNP”), JUAN CARLOS CARDONA, a/k/a “El Flaco,” a/k/a “Gamin,” a former CNP Captain, JAIME ENRIQUE ROMERO-PADILLA, a/k/a “Yimmy,” a former CNP Lieutenant, JORGE PLAZAS-SILVA, a/k/a “El Flaco,” an active CNP patrolman, HUMBERTO AVILA, an active CNP patrolmen, and MARIA CHRISTINA MARIN-CASTRO, an employee of Avianca Airlines, along with HENRY FERRO-VARON, a/k/a “El Mono” with conspiracy to distribute cocaine shipments through El Dorado Airport en route to the United States.
According to the indictment, from approximately August 2005 until December 2005, representatives of Colombia’s notorious Norte Valle Cartel, including former high-ranking Colombian police officials such as MOLINA-TRIANA, CARDONA and ROMERO-PADILLA, recruited active members of the Colombian police responsible for El Dorado Airport security operations, as well as Avianca Airlines employees at El Dorado Airport’s cargo facility, to permit the smuggling of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico and ultimately into the United States.
The indictment alleges that between October 14 and 17, 2005, corrupt Colombian police officials and Avianca Airlines employees permitted 409 kilograms of cocaine, worth more than $10 million on the streets of New York City, to pass through security at the Avianca Airlines cargo facility at El Dorado Airport without detection. MARIN-CASTRO, an employee of Avianca Airlines at El Dorado Airport, knowingly processed the false paperwork to move the cocaine through the Avianca Airlines cargo facility en route to Mexico City and the United States, it was charged.
According to the indictment, PLAZAS-SILVA and AVILA, active CNP patrolmen stationed at El Dorado Airport, passed the cocaine through security and guarded the shipment of drugs for three days in the Avianca cargo facility until the drugs were sent to Mexico City. As set forth in the indictment, on October 17, 2005, the 409 kilograms of cocaine were transported aboard an Avianca flight to Mexico City, Mexico, where they were seized by Mexican law enforcement personnel.
An additional amount of approximately 552 kilograms of cocaine worth more than $10 million dollars was seized yesterday by Colombian authorities during the execution of a search warrant from a warehouse used by this organization.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison. The indictment also seeks forfeiture from the defendants in the amount of $10 million, based on their roles in conspiring to import cocaine into the United States. The defendants are being held in Colombia pending submission of formal extradition requests by the United States.
The prosecution is being handled by the International Narcotics Trafficking Unit of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Marc P. Berger and Kevin R. Puvalowski are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.