TWO CUSTOMS OFFICERS AND TSA SUPERVISOR SENTENCED IN CONNECTION WITH DRUG IMPORTATION SCHEME
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Donald J. Balberchak, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of Inspector General (OIG), and David P. D’Amato, Special Agent in Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), announced the sentencing of defendant Cindy Moran-Sanchez, a former Customs Officer at the Miami International Airport, on charges of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine and heroin into the United States from the Dominican Republic.
On September 21, 2010, U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn sentenced Moran to 168 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by 5 years’ supervised release and a $30,000 fine. Co-conspirators Elizabeth Moran-Toala, a former Customs Officer at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport, and Jose Sanchez, a former TSA supervisor at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport, have also been convicted and sentenced for their respective roles in the conspiracy. On June 25, 2009, Elizabeth Moran-Toala was sentenced to 120 months’ imprisonment; Jose Sanchez was sentenced on October 1, 2009 to 135 months’ imprisonment.
In May 2009, defendants Cindy Moran-Sanchez, her husband Jose Sanchez, and her sister Elizabeth Moran-Toala, were charged in a superseding indictment for their participation in a conspiracy to import and distribute heroin and cocaine. According to court records and statements made in court, defendants Moran-Sanchez and Moran-Toala used their positions as U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers, and their access to the TECS computer program, to facilitate the entry of drug couriers traveling from the Dominican Republic to the United States carrying suitcases filled with either heroin or cocaine. Jose Sanchez, in turn, used his position as a TSA supervisor at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport to ensure that the couriers and their drug-laden suitcases, successfully made their way on board domestic flights bound from Fort Lauderdale to New York, where the drugs would be delivered to their ultimate purchasers.
According to the charges and statements made in court, in 2006, the defendants traveled to the Dominican Republic and formulated a plan with a prior drug associate of Moran-Sanchez to use their respective positions within DHS to facilitate the importation of cocaine and heroin into the United States, and thereafter, to points within the United States. As part of this plan, the defendants agreed that the associate, who had previously been deported from the United States for a drug offense, would re-enter the United States using a false identity and that he would thereafter recruit couriers to travel to the Dominican Republic, retrieve the illegal narcotics and return with the narcotics to the United States. Once the narcotics arrived in the United States, Elizabeth Moran-Toala and Jose Sanchez would use their positions and contacts at CBP to ensure to the best of their ability that the couriers and illegal narcotics passed through the customs enclosure at the Fort Lauderdale Airport without being detected by law enforcement agents and thereafter passed through TSA checkpoints to be placed on domestic commercial aircraft. The group agreed that the associate would pay the defendants a per kilogram fee for each kilogram of either cocaine or heroin which was imported successfully as part of this scheme.
In September 2006, the associate reentered the United States using a false identity. After reentering the United States, he and others recruited couriers, as planned, to travel to the Dominican Republic and return with narcotics. Through the assistance of the defendants, several couriers successfully entered the United States with cocaine and heroin, which was later flown on domestic flights to the New York area. Five couriers were intercepted. These interdictions resulted in the seizure of approximately 30 kilograms of heroin and fifty kilograms of cocaine.
In January 2009 the defendants’ drug associate was arrested. The defendants were arrested in February 2009 following an undercover investigation, during which they assisted an undercover officer in passing a suitcase filled with ten kilograms of purported heroin through the TSA terminal checkpoint and loading that suitcase onto a US Airways flight. Agents arrested the defendants after they accepted $25,000 as a fee for their assistance.
Mr. Ferrer commended the DHS-OIG and ICE-OPR for their work on this case. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Julia Vaglienti and Lawrence LaVecchio.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.