Feds Say U.S Airways Baggage Handler Nabbed In Philly Cocaine Sm - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Feds Say U.S Airways Baggage Handler Nabbed In Philly Cocaine Smuggling Operation

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Federal authorities say a crew of baggage handlers at Philadelphia International Airport were moving more than luggage at the international terminal, they were moving bags loaded with dozens of kilos of cocaine, until the federal authorities came calling.

"It's probably about one point seven million dollars wholesale. On the street probably more?  oh much more," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Maureen McCartney after a hearing in federal court Friday afternoon.

A federal indictment charges that more than 150 pounds of coke was transported from the Dominican Republic to Philadelphia via US Airways flights from Santo Domingo. A US Airways baggage handler, Jose Rodriguez of Sharon Hill, and Edwin Fernandez of Philadelphia recruited other handlers to make the scheme work.

"They were basically non descript Nike duffel bags, new, unused ,which was the way to tell which bag you were looking for if you were the one off loading from the plane," McCartney explained.

According to the indictment, Rodriguez would have handlers divert luggage from the international terminal over to a domestic baggage carousel, and he would payoff the employees between five and ten thousand dollars.

"Then you can basically just walk out of the airport with them rather than going through customs and having them inspected," McCartney added.

The feds intercepted text messages where Rodriguez told his fellow smugglers there was "bookoo money out there." He used terms like "work" or "party" to describe when the drug shipments were coming in. The handlers who moved the coke got a big pay day too.

"We have evidence to show he paid one employee $25,000," McCartney said.  

Investigators say a Dominican Republic drug cartel supplied the cocaine and arranged to have the drugs smuggled past security at the airport in Santo Domingo. That part of the operation is still being investigated

Over 70 kilos of cocaine were seized, that's over 150 pounds. Drug experts tell Fox 29 the cocaine that was seized could be worth almost $7 million on the street.

US Airways officials say they are concerned about the allegations and such behavior would not be tolerated. They says the airline is cooperating fully with the investigation.

Rodriguez and Fernandez were ordered held without bail Friday afternoon pending a bail hearing next Wednesday. An attorney for Rodriguez refused to comment after the hearing. Rodriguez pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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