3 of 5 Indicted in Airport Weapons Smuggling Scheme Were Baggage Handlers

Federal grand juries in Florida and Puerto Rico have indicted five men in a scheme in which baggage handlers smuggled drugs and guns aboard commercial flights, authorities said Thursday.

The men were part of a ring that authorities began to unravel this month when agents found Thomas Anthony Munoz, 22, carrying guns and drugs off a flight from Orlando to Puerto Rico, federal officials said.

Jeffrey Lorenzano Cruz, 27; his cousin Joel Matos Cruz; and Zabdiel Santiago Balaguer, 22, all of the Orlando area, were charged Wednesday with conspiracy, according to court documents. Jose Pena Maldonado, of Puerto Rico, and Munoz were also charged with conspiracy.

Munoz was charged earlier this month by a federal court in Puerto Rico, Assistant U.S. Attorney Vincent Citro said Thursday.

Balaguer, Munoz and Lorenzano Cruz were all baggage handlers who had access to secure areas.

Munoz arrived March 5 at Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico, carrying guns and drugs in a duffel bag, court documents said.

Balaguer, who authorities say is the ringleader, delivered guns and drugs to Puerto Rico several times himself and had recruited Munoz to make the delivery, according to court documents. Balaguer was arrested a day later.

The cousins were arrested in Orlando two days after Balaguer. Jeffrey Lorenzano Cruz had agreed to meet with an undercover agent there to sell drugs and guns, court documents said.

According to court documents, Jeffrey Lorenzano Cruz told authorities that Balaguer paid him $800 to take 20 pounds of marijuana to Puerto Rico in December 2006.

Maldonado wired money from Puerto Rico to Balaguer in Orlando to finance the operation, Munoz said in a statement.

The suspected breach caused federal officials to beef up security for a few days at airports in Florida and San Juan.

Puerto Rican officials said Thursday that Maldonado had not been arrested.

Munoz was free on bail. The other three are being held without bond in central Florida jails, Citro said.

Attorneys for the indicted men did not return telephone calls from The Associated Press.


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