Entries in Smuggling (6)


Narwhal Tusk-Smuggling Ring Cracked, Feds Say

Hemera/ThinkStock(WASHINGTON) -- The narwhal, a kind of Arctic whale, has been called “the unicorn of the sea” because of the long, straight, often spiraling tusk that males of the species can grow. It is illegal to import the tusks into the United States because narwhals are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as near-threatened.

Now the Department of Justice says it has cracked a smuggling ring that operated for nearly a decade, often shipping narwhal tusks from the Canadian Arctic over the border into Maine in a trailer with a false bottom. Two Americans have been arrested, and an indictment, provided to ABC News by the Justice Department, says they will be charged next week with smuggling and money laundering.

The indictment says Andrew Zarauskas of Union, N.J., and Jay Conrad of Lakeland, Tenn., will each face 29 federal charges for buying the tusks illegally, and two Canadian citizens — their names redacted — will face charges there for being sellers.

The indictment says that from December 2000 to February 2010, the defendants conspired to “fraudulently and knowingly import and bring merchandise, consisting of narwhal tusks, into the United States contrary to law, and to attempt to import and bring such merchandise into the United States contrary to law, and to receive, conceal, buy, sell, and in any manner facilitate the transportation, concealment, and sale of such merchandise after importation, knowing that the merchandise was imported and brought into the United States contrary to law.”

Messages left for Conrad and Zarauskas were not immediately returned. The indictment cites an email in 2000 from Canada offering to sell a “5 foot narwhal tusk speciman [sic] — is in excellent condition — came from the Baffin Island area at Pond Inlet.” Over the years, it says, there were dozens of FedEx shipments and more than a hundred payments.

What kind of money could be involved?  A legal seller in British Columbia, Furcanada, said tusks can be more than 8 feet long and sell for $1,000 to $7,000 each.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Head of 9/11 Hijackers’ Flight School Faces Drug Running Charges

Kevin Horan/Stone(NEW YORK) -- The man who ran the flight school that unwittingly trained two of the 9/11 hijackers now sits behind bars, accused of drug smuggling and offering his illicit services to an undercover federal officer.

Rudi Dekkers, a Danish national who used to run the Florida flight school Huffman Aviation, came to the attention of federal authorities in October when he was introduced to an undercover federal officer as an associate of suspected drug smuggling kingpin Arturo Astorquiza, according to Texas court documents. 

Though Astorquiza was the target of the federal operation, Dekkers allegedly told the undercover officer in their first meeting that he “was involved in narcotics transportation via private aircraft and that he [had] flown narcotics and U.S. currency previously without any problems.”

After Astorquiza was arrested, the documents say Dekkers reached out to the undercover officer and offered his services directly.  Federal investigators then began tailing Dekkers and eventually arrested him in early December when it appeared he was about to make a drug run for another customer.

The arrest comes more than a decade after Dekkers found himself in the national spotlight in the days after terrorists hijacked four commercial airplanes and used them to kill nearly 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2011. 

Federal investigators quickly identified Dekkers’ school, Huffman Aviation, as the location where two of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, earned their instrument certificates from the Federal Aviation Administration.  Atta and al-Shehhi were the men at the controls of the planes that flew into New York’s World Trade Center buildings.

In an interview with ABC News in 2001, Dekkers said the men were unfriendly, but he didn’t think there was anything suspicious about them.

Because of his fleeting connection to the 9/11 hijackers, the years after the attack proved difficult for Dekkers as he described in his memoir Guilt by Association.  He reportedly said in the book he received death threats and that people suspected he was somehow complicit in the attack.

In a recent interview with a local Fox News affiliate, Dekkers was asked if he thought he would ever outlive the shadow of 9/11.

“Yeah,” he said.  “When I die.”

Dekkers has been charged with intent to distribute five kilos or more of cocaine and 100 grams or more of heroin.  A Texas judge ordered he be held without bond, as the court said there was a “serious risk that the defendant will flee.”

Dekkers’ public defender did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this report.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Airline Employee Sentenced to Life for Role in Drug-Smuggling Ring

United States Attorney's Office(NEW YORK) -- A former American Airlines baggage handler was sentenced on Tuesday to life in prison for his role in leading a vast, multi-million dollar drug-smuggling ring known as the "Bourne Organization" and using the airline as his "personal narcotics shuttle service," federal officials said.

The Department of Justice said that Victor Bourne, a Barbadian national, had been convicted of leading a group that smuggled as much as 150 kilograms of cocaine from the Caribbean through New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport over nearly 10 years.

In the far-reaching scheme, federal officials said the Bourne Organization would pay off airline crew chiefs to make sure its own crooked baggage handlers oversaw certain shipments.  On the flights, the drugs were hidden behind panels in the cargo holds, in the ceiling and wing assembly, in the aircraft's avionics and in "other vital equipment compartments," the Department of Justice said.  To get the drugs out of the airport, employees would hide them in their clothing and then deliver the narcotics to Bourne.

Bourne was arrested in 2009 and the investigation into the organization led to the conviction of 19 other airline employees who were in on the scheme, the seizure of nearly 3,000 pounds of marijuana and the forfeiture of $6.9 million.

"Using his insider status, Bourne turned American Airlines into his personal narcotics shuttle service," U.S. attorney Loretta Lynch said in a press release, "running a criminal organization that ignored passenger safety and security in pursuit of their greater goal -- enriching Victor Bourne."

Bourne was brought down at trial by six witnesses, all former American Airline employees, who had pled guilty to their own narcotics trafficking charges.

American Airlines declined to comment for this report.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Feds: Here’s $100M, Now Catch Those Drug Smuggling Ultralights

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is spending big -- just under $100 million -- to combat drug smugglers who use small aircraft worth only a few thousand dollars each to ferry narcotics into the U.S.

Last week the CBP awarded SRCTec, a New York-based research and development company, a $99,955,087 contract for a real-time detection system that is specifically designed to pick out ultralight aircraft, slow-speed rudimentary manned planes that have a very small radar signature, on America’s southern border.

The contract award ended a year-long search for a way to spot ultralights loaded with narcotics -- a tactic lawmakers said is being employed more and more in recent years by drug smugglers hoping to buzz back and forth over border fences undetected. Ultralights are easy-to-use aircraft -- often little more than an airframe and engine -- that can be bought online or constructed at home from kits for a few thousand dollars. They also don't require a pilot’s license.

In May 2011, The Los Angeles Times reported that in the previous fiscal year, ultralights -- sometimes with armed pilots -- had entered U.S. borders illegally at least 228 times, double the number compared to the year before that.

One man died in 2008 when his ultralight crashed into a lettuce field in Arizona, according to the CBP. Nearly 150 lbs. of marijuana was found with the downed aircraft. A year later CBP managed to spot an ultralight using their current radar and followed it to its own crash elsewhere in Arizona. In that case, CBP said the pilot managed to escape but two others believed to be involved were arrested and another 275 lbs. of pot was confiscated -- worth an estimated $220,000 on the street.

In 2010, the military reported two F-16s had been scrambled by NORAD to chase down an ultralight near the Arizona border. The fighter jets -- capable of flying 1,500 miles per hour -- reportedly shadowed the ultralight -- which generally has a top speed around 60 miles per hour -- for 30 minutes before the ultralight decided to head back into Mexican airspace.

The ultralight’s use by smugglers has become so ubiquitous that Congress recently updated its definition of “aircraft” to include ultralights and, therefore, make those caught smuggling drugs with them subject to the same penalties as other aircraft under the Tariff Act of 1930. The new legislation, known as the Ultralight Aircraft Smuggling Prevention Act of 2012, was the last bill sponsored by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., before she resigned from Congress after surviving an apparent assassination attempt last January.

“The use of ultralight vehicles is yet another example of the extreme measures drug smugglers will use to get drugs into the United States,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Chairman of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, said after the bill passed the Senate.

Ultralights were also feared to have been part of an alleged terror plot uncovered in Spain earlier this month. In that case, three men were arrested before the plot could get off the ground. Authorities said two of them had been practicing flying ultralights and small drones.

The CBP contract winner, SRC Tec, lists what it calls the VantagePoint system under its products. According to the company’s website, VantagePoint can, “detect and track people, vehicles, and low and slow aircraft, such as  [unmanned aircraft systems] and ultralights.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Deputy Allegedly Smuggled Heroin Burrito into Jail

Kevin Horan/Stone(LOS ANGELES) -- One ingredient did not belong in the burrito that Deputy Henry Marin allegedly agreed to deliver inside the Los Angeles jail: heroin.

The 27-year-old, who worked at the Airport Branch Courthouse in Los Angeles, has pleaded not guilty to two felonies: bringing drugs into a jail and conspiracy to commit a crime.

Marin conspired with three people, one whose identity is still unknown, to bring heroin into the Airport Courthouse in February 2010, according to the indictment.

On Feb. 23, 2010, Marin “poked his head outside Department A” and waved for his conspirator to come meet him, the indictment states. It claims he asked her if she was “for Alvarez.”

She handed him the burrito and explained the heroin was inside, according to the court document.

“ problem,” Marin allegedly told her and took possession of the burrito.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday and was released on $25,000 bail.

This isn’t the first time the heroin-in-the-burrito trick has been pulled.

In 2006, Rosemary Gonzales was caught smuggling heroin inside of a burrito while trying to enter a New Mexico detention facility.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Woman, 85, Jailed as Smuggling Leader

Kevin Horan/Getty Images(SAN DIEGO) -- An 85-year-old ringleader of an extensive migrant smuggling operation in southern California has been sentenced to 30 months in prison.

U.S. Attorneys in San Diego said Thursday that Felicitas Gurrola de Mason, of Chula Vista, was the leader of a smuggling ring that brought hundreds of illegal immigrants into the U.S. using fake documents.

Daniel Zipp, one of the U.S. attorneys who investigated the case, said that Gurrola, a.k.a. "Dona Fey," had been indicted in 1982 for the same crime, but escaped arrest. Authorities believed that she escaped to Mexico, but later re-entered the U.S. and began the smuggling operation again.

Gurrola's daughter, Hilda, and nine other defendants were also involved in the ring, according to the indictment. The group would charge foreigners $3,500 for the border crossing, which included putting individuals up in hotels, choosing from a library of fake visas, foreign identification documents, and U.S. identification documents, access to wigs and makeup artists to shape disguises, and transportation to a city north of the border to collect payment.

Immigration agents received a tip about Gurrola's ring and then proceeded to tap her phones before planting an undercover agent among a group of migrants trying to cross the border, Zipp said.

In all, authorities identified at least 100 border crossings that Gurrola organized, bringing in more than $350,000.

Gurrola and her daughter pleaded guilty to 13 charges, including bringing in illegal aliens for financial gain, fraud and misuse of visas, permits, and other documents, aggravated identity theft, and aiding and abetting. They were both sentenced to 30 months in federal prison, in addition to paying the government $20,000 and turning over their cars and Hilda Gurrola's home in Chula Vista, Zipp said.

Gurrola has been in custody since her arrest.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio