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American Airlines mechanic convicted for trying to smuggle over 25 pounds of cocaine under jetliner's cockpit

An American Airlines mechanic was found guilty of trying to smuggle more than 25 pounds of cocaine by hiding it in a compartment beneath the cockpit of a plane, authorities said. The stash had a street value of up to $320,000.

The mechanic, 55-year-old Paul Belloisi, was convicted Tuesday by a federal jury in Brooklyn of conspiring to possess cocaine, conspiring to import cocaine and importing cocaine, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the eastern district of New York announced in a news release. The verdict, which followed a weeklong trial in district court, carries a potential prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Belloisi worked as a mechanic for American Airlines at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Prosecutors say that during a routine random search on Feb. 4, 2020, customs officers and agents from the airports anti-terrorism contraband enforcement team found 10 bricks of cocaine, weighing roughly 25 1/2 pounds, stashed inside a hidden electronics compartment below the cockpit of an American Airlines flight from Montego Bay.

An image released by the United States Attorney's Office in 2020 show a cut-out jacket Paul Belloisi allegedly used to smuggle cocaine bricks. United States Attorney's Office

Agents removed the cocaine bricks and replaced them with fakes, which they sprayed with a substance that glows under a special black light. Authorities then placed the aircraft under surveillance and, before it was scheduled to take off for its next flight, saw Belloisi drive up to the plane and enter the electronics compartment. When they later confronted him, law enforcement officers saw his gloves glowed under their black light, indicating that he had touched the fake bricks. At the time Belloisi was apparently also carrying an empty tool bag, and "the lining of his jacket had cutouts sufficiently large enough to hold the bricks," according to the district attorney's office.

"As proven, the defendant was caught red-handed trying to facilitate the smuggling of a large stash of cocaine hidden in an electronics compartment of the aircraft." said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace in a statement.  "This corrupt airline mechanic not only abused his position of trust and undermined the security of a vital border crossing in our district, but was also willing to potentially endanger the safety of travelers as well as the community."

After Belloisi's arraignment in 2020, authorities said that his attempt to smuggle such a significant quantity of drugs internationally suggested that he was an "inside man" who abused his position at American Airlines.

Richard Donoghue, then the U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of New York, said in a statement that "this airline mechanic abused his position as a trusted employee and his access to sensitive areas of JFK Airport to participate in the clandestine importation of cocaine."

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