FORMER TSA OFFICER SENTENCED TO MORE THAN SIX YEARS IN FEDERAL PRISON FOR ROLE IN OXYCODONE TRAFFICKING RING
David B. Fein, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that JONATHAN BEST, also known as “JB,” 31, formerly a Transportation Security Administration officer based at Palm Beach International Airport, was sentenced today by United States District Judge Janet C. Hall in New Haven to 76 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for helping to facilitate the transportation of illegal narcotics through airport security without detection. BEST, two other TSA officers, a former Westchester County Police officer and a former Florida State Trooper have pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from the investigation.
“This is an appropriate sentence for a defendant who breached his oath of public office and the serious responsibilities entrusted to him,” stated U.S. Attorney Fein. “He accepted cash to stand by and watch as substantial quantities of oxycodone pills were smuggled through airport security, and also personally traveled from Florida to Connecticut to help this narcotics trafficking enterprise launder illegal proceeds. The potential dangers that arise when airport security posts are staffed by TSA officers who are ‘on the take’ are obvious. I commend the DEA Task Force for shutting down this pipeline of highly addictive prescription pills from Florida to Connecticut, and for bringing to justice this defendant and others who participated in this illegal scheme.”
This matter stems from “Operation Blue Coast,” an investigation headed by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Bridgeport High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force into the large-scale trafficking of oxycodone pills from Florida to Connecticut. The investigation revealed that an individual regularly purchased oxycodone from suppliers in Florida, transported the oxycodone to Connecticut by commercial airline or automobile, and sold the pills to various Connecticut-based narcotics dealers. The narcotics trafficker purchased oxycodone pills in Florida for approximately $5.00 per pill, and traveled from Florida to Connecticut several times a week carrying up to 8,000 oxycodone pills per trip. He then used drivers to transport him to and from narcotics transactions during which he would sell the pills to Connecticut-based dealers for between $10.00 and $13.00 per pill. After exchanging low-denomination currency for larger notes, he transported the proceeds of his oxycodone sales from Connecticut to Florida, either by having a courier drive the money or by using commercial airline flights. The Connecticut-based dealers sold the pills to lower-level dealers and drug customers for between $23.00 and $30.00 per pill.
According to court documents and statements made in court, BEST, while employed as a Transportation Security Agency officer at Palm Beach International Airport (“PBI”) in West Palm Beach, Fla., accepted cash payments from the narcotics trafficker to ensure that the trafficker would not be stopped by TSA officers as he carried oxycodone pills through airport security on his way to Connecticut. BEST told the narcotics trafficker how to dress and how he should act if confronted by airport security. BEST also recruited fellow PBI TSA officer Christopher Allen into this scheme.
On May 6, 2011, the narcotics trafficker, who by this time was cooperating with law enforcement, paid BEST $1,500. On May 18, 2011, BEST allowed the trafficker to pass through PBI security with 2,000 oxycodone pills that BEST believed were intended for distribution in Connecticut.
On June 13, 2011, the trafficker paid BEST $500. On June 27, 2011, BEST allowed the trafficker and an undercover law enforcement officer, each of whom were carrying 4,000 oxycodone pills, to pass through PBI security. After passing through security, the undercover officer met BEST in an airport bathroom and gave him $500.
On August 3, 2011, the trafficker and undercover officer each paid BEST $500. The next day, BEST again allowed them to pass safely through PBI security while they possessed thousands of oxycodone pills.
In September 2011, BEST agreed to travel to Connecticut to help the narcotics trafficker launder drug proceeds and to transport laundered funds back to Florida. BEST was arrested in Connecticut on September 12, 2011.
As disclosed in court, the evidence in this case includes recorded conversations among BEST, the cooperating narcotics trafficker and the undercover law enforcement officer.
On April 17, 2012, BEST pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute oxycodone.
Twenty individuals have been charged as a result of this investigation. Christopher Allen has pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing. Brigitte Jones, a TSA officer based at Westchester County Airport in White Plains, Justin Kolves, a former Florida State Trooper and Michael Brady, a former Westchester County Police officer, also pleaded guilty and have been sentenced to prison terms of 45 months, 84 months and 37 months, respectively.
This matter is being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Bridgeport High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force, which includes personnel from the Connecticut State Police and the Bridgeport, Milford, Norwalk, Stamford and Westport Police Departments; the Drug Enforcement Administration in Florida and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General. In addition, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Greenwich, Monroe, Danbury and Waterbury Police Departments have assisted the investigation.
U.S. Attorney Fein also acknowledged the cooperation of the Westchester County Department of Public Safety and the Florida Highway Patrol, and the substantial assistance provided by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.
This case is being prosecuted in the District of Connecticut by Assistant United States Attorneys Rahul Kale and Tracy Lee Dayton.
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