Flight attendants smuggled $8M in drug money through JFK in international scheme: feds

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A crew of commercial airline flight attendants used their security clearance to smuggle $8 million in drug money through JFK International Aiport, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

The four accused mile-high smugglers cashed in on lighter security restrictions to funnel the ill-gotten cash through airport checkpoints at the Queens travel hub for years, according to a pair of federal indictments unsealed by the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York.

“These flight attendants smuggled millions of dollars of drug money and law enforcement funds that they thought was drug money from the United States to the Dominican Republic over many years by abusing their privileges as airline employees,” US Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.

Four flight attendants used their security clearance to smuggle $8 million in drug money through JFK airport, feds say. Svitlana – stock.adobe.com
The suspected smugglers are Jarol Fabio, Emmanuel Torres, Sarah Valerio Pujols and Charlie Fernandez.
AFP via Getty Images

“Today’s charges should serve as a reminder to those who break the law by helping drug traffickers move their money that crime doesn’t pay,” Williams said.

Investigators from Williams’ office and agents from the US Homeland Security Investigations’ El Dorado Task Force broke the case using confidential informants to foil the years-long scheme.

The suspects — Jarol Fabio, 35, of Manhattan; Emmanuel Torres, 34, of Brooklyn; Sarah Valerio Pujols, 42, of the Bronx; and Charlie Fernandez, 42, of New Jersey — began trafficking the money to the Dominican Republic as early as 2014, the feds said.

They flew for different international commercial airlines, which were not identified.

The flight attendants, who all worked routes to the Dominican Republic, took advantage of more lax security measures for airline employees to pull off the scheme, federal agents said.

They were each paid a fee — typically a cut of the drug money — for serving as mules.

When they arrived in the DR, they passed the cash on to drug trafficking contacts, they said.

Homeland Security Investigations officials said the bust of four flight attendants exposed “vulnerabilities” in air security. Paul Martinka
Federal investigators said four commercial airline attendants funneled drug cash through JFK airport for years. Getty Images

According to Homeland Security New York Special Agent in Charge Ivan Arvelo, the multi-agency busts served as a learning experience for the investigators.

“This investigation has exposed critical vulnerabilities in the airline security industry and has illuminated methods that narcotics traffickers are utilizing,” Arvelo said in a statement.

“Today’s announcement should serve as a warning to all airline personnel,” he added. “HSI New York will not tolerate employees’ attempts to abuse their power for the sake of transporting illicit goods.”

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