Swissport Cargo Manager At ORD Charged In Drug Sting

June 28--A longtime manager for a ground services company at O'Hare International Airport who allegedly bragged on undercover recordings about his ties to drug cartels was snared in a sting smuggling a purported shipment of cocaine off a flight from Mexico, authorities said Thursday.

Hugo Herrera-Ruano was secretly video recorded as a government informant handed over two payoffs totaling $10,000 in cash at a Des Plaines restaurant in late April and early May in return for his help, the charges alleged.

Herrera-Ruano, 42, of Northlake, was charged in a federal criminal complaint unsealed Thursday with one count of attempting to possess and distribute 10 kilograms of cocaine. U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez ordered him held until a detention hearing next week.

According to the complaint, authorities seized a shipment of more than 300 kilograms of cocaine hidden in boxes on a flight from Guadalajara in April 2007. That shipment was due to be offloaded and stored at a warehouse owned by Swissport Services, where Herrera-Ruano was a night manager, the complaint alleged.

Authorities alleged that Herrera-Ruano again came to their attention in 2010 after a box containing more than 30 kilograms of cocaine had gone missing at the International Terminal 5. Airport police found the box the next day unclaimed at the AeroMexico baggage carousel. An airport luggage handler went to police and identified Herrera-Ruano from a photo array as the man who approached him the night before with a $5,000 bribe offer for help locating the package, according to the complaint.

Under the direction of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, an informant took a job with Swissport last September, often working for Herrera-Ruano, authorities said. The informant told agents in March that Herrera-Ruano had bragged to him about working with Mexican drug cartels in the past and offered to help the informant smuggle drugs through the airport for a fee.

Federal authorities had the informant go to Herrera-Ruano with a plan to smuggle a shipment of cocaine purportedly coming in on an AeroMexico commercial flight from Mexico City on April 26. Over the next several weeks, Herrera-Ruano was captured on a wire worn by the informant talking about his surveillance of airport security and ways to get around customs agents and drug-sniffing dogs, according to the charges.

"I've been watching these bastards for years to see what the hell can be done," Herrera-Ruano was quoted in the charges as telling the informant in Spanish. "...The pigs are always out there."

On the night of the shipment, Herrera-Ruano helped the informant load a box containing 10 kilograms of sham cocaine provided by federal authorities into the informant's truck, according to the charges.

Later that day, at a meeting inside the Des Plaines restaurant, the informant tried to hand Herrera-Ruano an envelope containing the first $5,000 cash payoff, but Herrera-Ruano balked, telling him, "No, it'd be better in the car," according to the complaint.

The payoff took place a short time later in Herrera-Ruano's vehicle, authorities said. A second payoff is alleged to have occurred five days later at the same restaurant.

Herrera-Ruano has worked for Swissport Services since 1995, according to the complaint. Calls to the company -- which provides ground service and cargo storage for airlines around the world -- were not returned Thursday.

jmeisner@tribune.com

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