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Colombians, Airline Ring Said Tied

August 25, 1999

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ Ten Colombians arrested over the weekend in Cali used American Airlines flights to smuggle more than a half ton of heroin and cocaine to Miami, a state security official said Wednesday.

Cleotilde Moreno, an aide to the state security agency’s chief of investigations, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that an airline maintenance company got the drugs aboard the American Airlines planes.

The U.S. airline has one flight daily to Miami from Cali.

There was no immediate indication that the arrests were connected to a sting operation in the United States involving dozens of American Airlines employees and contract workers. They were arrested Tuesday on cocaine and marijuana smuggling charges.

American Airlines officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the Cali-based smuggling ring.

According to the DAS security agency, the Cali traffickers worked through the maintenance company, Aercol, and smuggled more than a half ton of heroin to the United States.

DAS spokesman Efrain Marin said the group occasionally smuggled cocaine, but opted generally for heroin, which is harder to detect and more lucrative.

Mechanics hid the drugs in the tail sections, behind the pilots’ seats and in technical compartments. Once in Miami, the heroin was received by a man whose identity DAS provided to U.S. authorities, the Colombian agency said.

A respected foreign carrier was used ``because its planes are not subjected to as rigorous inspections as occurs with (Colombian) airlines.″ DAS said in a statement.

Moreno said the security agency had been investigating the heroin ring for seven months, and believes it had been operating for two years. It’s alleged leader, Simeon Gomez, is one of the men arrested Sunday.

Colombia is the source of more than 80 percent of the world’s cocaine and a growing share of heroin. Three-quarters of the heroin seized on the East Coast originates in this Andean nation, U.S. officials say.

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