Federal agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration conducted a large raid in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, arresting at least 33 people suspected of smuggling 14 tons of cocaine and heroin on commercial flights from San Juan to Miami, New York, Newark and Boston over more than a decade. At least 22 people--including baggage handlers and airline staff--were arrested at Puerto Rico's international airport, the rest at their homes, the DEA said.
Two others were arrested at Miami International Airport and one in Dallas-Ft. Worth as part of Wednesday's sting, dubbed "Operation Open Door."
The Justice Department charged 45 people--including 18 current and former American Airlines employees--associated with two Puerto Rico-based drug trafficking organizations, according to two federal indictments filed on May 31 and unsealed Wednesday. A spokesman for American Airlines said the company has a "zero-tolerance policy" and is actively cooperating with law enforcement officials.
According to the Associated Press, "tourists gawked" when DEA agents swept into the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, just outside of San Juan.
A team of 200 federal agents and Puerto Rican police participated in Wednesday's raids, according to CNN.
"It's an important blow," Laila Rico, a spokeswoman for the DEA's Caribbean Division, told Reuters. "The Puerto Rico airport is sought-after by drug dealers because it's basically a mid-point between South American countries and the United States and offers an easy entry point."
In a smuggling operation reminiscent of the one portrayed in the 2001 film "Blow," the suspects would arrive at the airport with the drugs in their backpacks or in official airport vehicles, the indictments allege, then transfer the drugs to passengers with suitcases in bathrooms at the airport after clearing security.
In 2009, nine American Airlines workers at the San Juan airport were arrested on drug trafficking charges.