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Flight attendants charged in connection with scheme to smuggle drug money from U.S. to Dominican Republic

5/8: CBS Morning News
5/8: CBS Morning News 20:34

Four flight attendants have been charged in connection with an alleged scheme to smuggle drug money from the U.S. to the Dominican Republic, authorities announced Wednesday.

Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York alleged in two unsealed complaints that Charlie Hernandez, Sarah Valerio Pujols, Emmanuel Torres and Jarol Fabio took part in a years-long scheme to smuggle bulk cash that had been earned from selling drugs on behalf of traffickers from the United States to the Dominican Republic.

All four flight attendants worked at major international airlines and flew from the U.S. to the Dominican Republic and, according to prosecutors, knew they were ferrying drug money.

The flight attendants used their status as a "Known Crewmember, " a program that allows airline employees to go through security checkpoints with "personal property," to pass through security checkpoints with large amounts of cash, prosecutors said. 

Two flight attendants met a confidential informant, who had been working with the Department of Homeland Security, who gave them $60,000 to bring to the Dominican Republic, the indictment said. The other two flight attendants received approximately $121,215 in drug profits from a confidential informant, the complaint alleged. Those funds were split with another flight attendant to bring to the Dominican Republic, according to prosecutors.

"This investigation has exposed critical vulnerabilities in the airline security industry and has illuminated methods that narcotics traffickers are utilizing," Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo said in a statement.

Authorities did not clarify whether there was an uptick in airline employees smuggling drugs or drug proceeds. However, in recent years, several airline employees have been charged and convicted for using their status as trusted employees to smuggle cash and drugs through airports and on planes.  

An American Airlines mechanic was convicted last year for trying to smuggle 25 pounds of cocaine underneath a plane's cockpit from New York to Jamaica. A flight attendant in Dallas pleaded guilty in 2022 to smuggling fentanyl taped to her stomach on a flight from Fort Worth to San Francisco.

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