Feds Crack Ring Smuggling Cocaine in Military Planes
SEATTLE (AP) _ Army soldiers used military transport planes to smuggle more than 200 pounds of cocaine into the United States from Panama, authorities said.
Three of 11 people charged in a federal indictment have been arrested, prosecutors said Thursday. Those arrested are current or former soldiers who were stationed at Fort Lewis, near Tacoma.
Spot inspections revealed the shipment method when 4.4 pounds of cocaine was found in the false sides of a briefcase carried by a passenger who arrived at Charleston, S.C., on a October 1990 military flight bound for Fort Lewis from Panama.
″Customs does check military flights, but they do not check them the way they check a Colombian (plane) coming in from Bogota, for example,″ said Lawrence A. LaDage, the Customs agent in charge of Washington and Oregon.
Cocaine from the ring based in Colon, Panama, was brought to Tacoma, and sent by courier to New York, Miami, Los Angeles and other destinations, LaDage said.
A grand jury in Tacoma began hearing evidence in 1991 and returned a sealed indictment that year. It was made public with the first arrests this week.
Darryl Loveless, 27, a member of the 864th Engineers Battalion at Fort Lewis was arrested Wednesday at the base. He remains in custody pending a bail hearing. Prosecutors would not give his rank, but said he was an enlisted man.
Eduardo Ernesto Joseph, 31, a Panamanian, was arrested in Tampa, Fla., where he was living. Mona Marie Philon Reyna, 26, a U.S. citizen, was arrested at her job in San Antonio, Texas. Both are former Fort Lewis soldiers.
Reyna was freed on bond pending a court appearance May 21. Joseph will appear in court later, a prosecutor said.
The eight other people named in the indictment, including five Panamanians, were still being sought.
About 100 to 120 kilograms, or 220 to 262 pounds, of cocaine with an estimated $2 million wholesale value arrived before the case was cracked, LaDage said.