Neither the nine people arrested Tuesday nor the one suspect still on the lam had any prior connections to drug gangs, U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox told reporters Tuesday. They saw an opportunity to make some quick cash and seized it, she said.
"These individuals were more than willing to use their position of power at the airport to bypass security measures and exploit security vulnerabilities." — Erin Nealy Cox
"This [case] is about greed and people who abuse their positions of trust," Cox said. "This case shows the lengths that these individuals would go to, individuals who [were] trusted with insider knowledge of our airport system, to just obtain cash. These individuals were more than willing to use their position of power at the airport to bypass security measures and exploit security vulnerabilities."
Over the course of an almost two-year investigation, the workers, seven of whom were employed by American Airlines subsidiary Envoy, allegedly shipped 66 pounds of fake meth from D/FW to airports in Charlotte, North Carolina; Phoenix; and Newark, New Jersey. Every time they sent a shipment, federal agents were there to pick it up, Cox said. No real drugs were ever used during the sting.
The feds brought an early end to the investigation, Cox said, when Envoy employee Nelson Pabon allegedly agreed to smuggle the plastic explosive C-4, first telling an agent that he would do so for $2,500 before upping his price to $5,500.
Envoy said Tuesday it is eager to help as the investigation continues.
"At American and Envoy Air, we have an unwavering commitment to the safety and security of our customers and team members. We take this matter very seriously and are cooperating with law enforcement during their investigation," the company said.
Each of the individuals arrested Tuesday is charged with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a Schedule II controlled substance.
D/FW Airport police Chief Charles Cinquemani said the arrests were proof of a strong partnership between airport police and federal law enforcement.
“There will always be people who attempt to access the airport for illegal activities, but we will remain vigilant by investing in security and collaboratively sharing information and resources with the FBI, TSA, Customs and Border Protection, and other federal, state and local agencies," Cinquemani said.
Tuesday's bust marks the second time in three years that workers at D/FW have been arrested for allegedly transporting fake drugs out of the airport. In 2015, the FBI arrested four workers after they promised they could get cocaine from the airport to other destinations around the country.
Eventually, aided by an FBI agent, the four workers — Molitoni Katoa, Janelle Isaacs, Moniteveti Katoa and Funaki Falahola — helped move kilograms of a substance they believed was cocaine from D/FW to Las Vegas; Newark; Phoenix; Chicago; Wichita, Kansas; and San Francisco, the feds said.
All four defendants pleaded guilty to federal drug charges and received sentences of between six and 20 years in prison.