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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Texas

Friday, December 6, 2019

Lead Defendant in DFW Airport Drug-Smuggling Ring Sentenced to 16+ Years

The lead defendant in a drug-smuggling ring that attempted to traffic methamphetamine through the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport was sentenced this afternoon to 16 years and 8 months in federal prison, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Erin Nealy Cox.

Nelson Pabon, 48, pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance.

In plea papers, Mr. Pabon – a former airline supervisory crew chief from Friendswood, Texas– admitted that he worked with several individuals to circumvent security at DFW Airport in order to load purported drugs onto commercial flights.  

Mr. Pabon told undercover agents that because he received advance notice of narcotic canine baggage sweeps, he was well-positioned to sneak drugs onto cross-country jets in return for cash.

On at least six occasions between August 2016 and May 2018, Mr. Pabon and his coconspirators smuggled purported crystal meth – in actuality a dummy substance provided by undercover agents – onto commercial flights to Newark, New Jersey, he admitted.  

Other members of the conspiracy smuggle purported crystal methamphetamine onto commercial flights to Charlotte, North Carolina, and Phoenix, Arizona.

Mr. Pabon further acknowledged he even contemplated smuggling inert explosives, which he was told would not combust en route, and told others, including Michael Alexis Rivera Vasquez and Jean Loui Vargas Malave, that they would get paid more for smuggling the explosives.  

“These defendants attempted to subvert the security systems that keep Americans safe in the skies,” said U.S. Attorney Nealy Cox. “Airport and airline workers cannot be allowed to leverage their positions of trust and profit off transporting deadly substances. We must all be insist that every precaution is taken to prevent security breaches of this type. ”   

“The defendants exploited their employee access for personal gain and jeopardized the safety of airline travelers. The FBI would like to thank our local and federal partners for working with us to dismantle this criminal enterprise,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno of the Dallas Field Office. “Our citizens expect all airports to be safe and secure. We will remain vigilant and investigate anyone who attempts to compromise aviation security.”

Mr. Pabon is one of 12 coconspirators indicted in two cases involving bypassing airport security to smuggle contraband onto commercial airline flights at DFW.  Two co-defendants, Benitez Matienzo, a 46 -year-old baggage handler, and Michael Alexis Riviera Vasquez, a 22-year-old  baggage handler, were sentenced today to 45 months and 48 months, respectively.

Camacho Melendez, 23, was sentenced Thursday to 97 months in federal prison; Cristian David Cruz-Rodriguez, 24, was sentenced in October to 65 months; Joshua Israel Pagan Zapata, 22, was sentenced in October to 63 months; Domingo Villafane Martinez, 32, was sentenced in August to 27 months; Jose Luis Gaston-Rolon, 25, was sentenced in August to 87 months; Luis Javier Collazo Rosado, 23, was sentenced in July to 30 months; and Kiir Akan Carson, 26, was sentenced in June to 12 months, 1 day, all for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance.

Jean Loui Vargas Malave* is the only remaining captured defendant pending sentencing.  He is set to be sentenced on January 23, 2020.

The law enforcement operation was led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Dallas Field Office, the Dallas Police Department, and the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division. Assistant U.S. Attorneys George Leal, John de la Garza, and John Kull are prosecuting the cases.


*UPDATE, 2/3/2020: Co-defendant Jean Loui Vargas Malave, 23, was sentenced on January 31, 2020 to 10 years in federal prison for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute methemphetamine. 

Drug Trafficking
Erin Dooley, Public Affairs Officer 214-659-8707
Updated February 4, 2020