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46 indicted on charges related to smuggling drugs on flights

DALLAS (AP) — Dozens of people are facing charges related to smuggling drugs into several U.S. cities on commercial flights from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Dallas released a statement saying most of the 46 defendants are from northern Texas and would appear in court beginning Wednesday. Charges include intent to distribute cocaine and methamphetamines, conspiracy and money laundering.

Undercover agents gave some suspects packages, purporting they contained drugs, that were then carried onto flights for payments of up to $9,000, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday. Prosecutors said the drugs were flown to Las Vegas, Phoenix, Chicago and San Francisco, as well as Newark, New Jersey, and Wichita, Kansas.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many of the defendants were in custody Wednesday. The U.S. attorney’s office declined comment beyond its press release.

Airport spokeswoman Cynthia Vega said airport officials were aware of the FBI sting investigation, and that none of the indicted individuals works for the airport, which has about 1,800 employees. She said only two of those indicted work for companies that operate out of the airport, where about 63,000 people work daily.

The indictment, issued last month by a federal grand jury in Dallas, said the scheme began in 2011. Authorities said four defendants either worked at the airport or used ties to an airport worker to bypass security screening.

Investigators believe that a man who worked at the airport, for a company not identified in the indictment, helped relatives smuggle drugs from the airport.

The worker’s cousin allegedly told an undercover agent that he or other relatives could arrange to have drugs transported on passenger flights. Agents gave the cousin a backpack containing what they said was cocaine, and he and his uncle flew to Las Vegas and delivered it to another undercover officer, the 17-count indictment alleges.

The uncle told an undercover agent that his name would be put on an employee list instead of the standard passenger list. The uncle also said he had been flying several times a month to watch how Transportation Security Administration agents conducted checks in various cities, and he had been waiting for an opportunity to transport drugs on an American Airlines flight.

Fort Worth-based American Airlines, which uses the airport as its main hub, issued a statement saying it was taking the matter seriously and has been cooperating with law enforcement throughout the investigation. It says the company’s top priority is “the safety and security of our customers and employees.”

More than two dozen airlines serve the airport, where five terminals include restaurants and other shops to serve the estimated 174,000 daily passengers, according the airport website.

The FBI, Dallas police and the Internal Revenue Service were involved in the investigation.

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