Federal agents rounded up dozens of people suspected of smuggling drugs at Puerto Rico's largest airport Wednesday, and agents said some of their final destinations included stops in Florida and New Jersey.
Drug Enforcement Agency agents arrested 33 people at an airport just outside San Juan, and two more were arrested in Miami, in an alleged drug trafficking ring that investigators said has been flying high for more than a dozen years. Agents said the problems began in 1999.
Twenty American Airlines employees have been accused of bypassing security on the island with kilos of cocaine, loading them onto planes and unloading them at U.S. airports, including Miami International Airport.
Agents also said other airport workers bypassed security, giving cocaine to passengers to take aboard other airlines' planes in their carry-on luggage.
"People from the criminal world approach them and offer them money. Most employees refuse, but there have been several who have said yes, and that's why we have these arrests," said Peurto Rico DEA Agent Pedro Janer in Spanish.
Forty-five people have been indicted so far. Nearly half are connected, agents said, to American Airlines.
"In cases such as this, American Airlines always assists local, state and federal law enforcement agencies," American Airlines said in a prepared statement. "We have a zero-tolerance policy for any employee when it comes to this type of activity."
"This demonstrates that we are working together and keeping an eye on the airport, which will always be a point of interest for us," Janer said.
The U.S. Department of Justice said that if convicted, the suspects face 10 years to life in prison.