Eighteen Defendants, Including Ten JFK Airport Employees, Charged in International Drug Smuggling and Distribution Schemes
A complaint was unsealed this morning in federal court in Brooklyn charging 18 defendants, including 10 employees at John F. Kennedy Airport, for their participation in an international heroin and cocaine importation organization, a drug distribution scheme, and bulk U.S. currency smuggling. As part of the two-year investigation, federal agents seized more than 46 kilograms of cocaine, 25 kilograms of heroin, and 3 kilograms of MDMA (ecstasy). The investigation leading to the charges announced today was conducted by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), with assistance provided by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Protection, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. 1
The defendants arrested in New York earlier today have their initial appearances scheduled this afternoon before United States Magistrate Steven M. Gold, at the U. S. Courthouse, 225 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, New York.
According to the complaint, 10 defendants participated in a drug organization led by HENRY POLANCO, who operated from the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. POLANCO dealt with drug suppliers in the Dominican Republic, who provided him with large quantities of heroin and cocaine. In order to smuggle the drugs into the country, POLANCO primarily relied on corrupt airline employees at JFK and abroad. In the Dominican Republic, the airport employees concealed narcotics in luggage on board international commercial flights destined for JFK. At JFK, corrupt airline employees supervised by JORGE ESPINAL, including Delta Airline employee ERIK ERAZO, diverted the contraband to a “safe” area before the luggage could be inspected by law enforcement. Thereafter, ESPINAL and ERAZO delivered the drugs to other members of the organization for distribution. MIGDALIA SOSA, an employee of Aramark and ESPINAL’s girlfriend, served as a lookout, monitoring law enforcement activity at the airport arrival area and reporting back to ESPINAL.
Utilizing court-authorized wire taps of the defendants’ telephones, law enforcement agents not only identified the members of the organization, but also interrupted its activities. For example, in August 2007, ICE agents intercepted a drug supplier advising POLANCO that, “he was flying,” meaning a narcotics courier had left the Dominican Republic carrying drugs. Alerted to the imminent arrival, Customs and Border Protection officers and ICE agents went to a secure corridor used by arriving international passengers to enter the Customs area for inspection. There, the agents and officers encountered ESPINAL and ERAZO, who immediately left the area. ESPINAL then telephoned POLANCO, warned him of the presence of law enforcement, and asked POLANCO to direct the courier to leave the “gift,” or drugs, on the plane. Instead, POLANCO ordered the courier to leave the plane with the drugs and enter the airport, where he was promptly arrested by law enforcement in possession of a suitcase containing more than 10 kilograms of cocaine and two kilograms of heroin.2
The investigation also uncovered the criminal activity of seven other defendants, six of
whom were airport employees, who participated in a drug distribution ring led by ERAZO. One additional defendant, VICTOR PEREZ was charged with ESPINAL for smuggling cash to the Dominican Republic.
As members of the drug importation organization, HENRY POLANCO, JORGE ESPINAL, ERIK ERAZO, MARCO POLANCO, DIOMEDES MARCELINO, MIGDALIA SOSA, ELSEN VASQUEZ, DIGGITY “LNU,” LILO “LNU,” and SHORTY “LNU” are charged with conspiracy to import a controlled substance, and if convicted each faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and a $4 million fine.
For their participation in the drug distribution scheme, ERIK ERAZO, CHRISTIAN AGUIRRE, GARY GONZALEZ, ERIK CARINO, VICKY PAMALONE, CHRISTOPHER SMITH, LUIS JUAREZ, and ROGER MATTOS are charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance, and if convicted each faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years and a $1million fine.
The defendants JORGE ESPINAL and VICTOR PEREZ are charged with conspiracy to engage in bulk cash smuggling, and if convicted each faces a maximum term of imprisonment of five years and a $250,000 fine.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Patricia E. Notopoulos.
HENRY POLANCO, head of POLANCO organization
JORGE ESPINAL, Delta Airline employee and drug importer
ERIK ERAZO, Delta Airline employee and drug importer/distributor
MARCO POLANCO, partner in POLANCO organization
DIOMEDES MARCELINO, drug importer
MIGDALIA SOSA, Aramark employee and lookout for POLANCO organization
ELSEN VASQUEZ, American Airlines employee and drug importer
VICTOR PEREZ, cash smuggler
DIGGITY LNU, drug importer
LILO LNU, drug distributor
SHORTY LNU, drug distributor
CHRISTIAN AGUIRRE, Delta Airline employee and drug distributor
GARY GONZALEZ, Delta Airline employee and drug distributor
ERIC CARINO, drug distributor
VICTORIA PAMPALONE, Delta Airlines employee and drug distributor
CHRISTOPHER SMITH, Delta Airlines employee and drug distributor
LUIS JUAREZ, JFK-TNT courier service employee and drug distributor
ROGER MATTOS, Delta Airlines employee and drug distributor
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