5 men accused of smuggling drugs through King Airport plead not guilty
Published: September 5, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - Five men accused of smuggling drugs through King Airport on St. Thomas re-entered not guilty pleas in District Court on Wednesday after prosecutors issued expanded indictments in two cases.
Kirsten Alexander and Isa Noel, who worked as baggage handlers at the airport through the contracted firm GCG Ground Services, LLC, were arrested June 20 and charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine.
The government charges that from November 2011 to October 2012 the defendants used their positions at the airport to arrange shipments of cocaine and to get cocaine past airport security. The men also are accused of passing off bundles of cocaine to couriers in airport restrooms for insertion in carry-on luggage.
Alexander and Noel marked checked baggage containing drugs with colored scarves or other means for undetected passage through the airport's security systems and onto planes bound for Miami and New York City, according to an indictment.
Another defendant in the case, Joelvis Acosta Liz, who also was a baggage handler, pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy and trafficking charges Aug. 7.
Another man, Adalberto Vasquez-Liriano, pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine and was sentenced on July 23 to 120 months in prison, according to court records.
Vasquez-Liriano tried to flee Customs and Border Protection agents, who cornered him in an airport bathroom stall after Acosta Liz had handed him about 7 kilograms of cocaine Sept. 16, according to court documents.
According to a superseding indictment filed Aug. 30 by Assistant U.S. Attorney Nelson Jones, another airport worker, a "gift shop sales clerk" whose name is redacted in the document, used his position to help the ring arrange drug shipments and may have served as a lookout for law enforcement when others were making drug transactions.
It is not clear whether the unnamed clerk has been arrested and charged.
The indictment charges Noel with one count of drug conspiracy and two counts of possession with intent to distribute cocaine.
The indictment charges Alexander with one count of drug conspiracy and one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine.
In a separate case, two maintenance workers at King airport - Leayle Benjamin and Aben Marrero Jr. - and a Georgia resident, Marlon Underhill, are accused of trafficking cocaine through the airport to Atlanta and Miami from a "time unknown" until October 2011, according to court documents.
All three entered not guilty pleas Wednesday to charges against them in a superseding indictment filed Aug. 30 by Jones.
Similarly, the government contends that, with respect to Benjamin and Marrrero, working for the Port Authority and having access to airport operations facilitated the smuggling of cocaine out of the territory. The defendants also engaged in bathroom pass-offs of cocaine and made phone calls arranging drug transactions while at work, according to the superseding indictment.
Underhill is accused of receiving 9 kilograms of cocaine from a courier named Thomas Bruce, who flew from the Virgin Islands to Jackson-Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta, in July 2011, according to the indictment.
Marrero is believed to have supplied the same courier with 7 kilograms of cocaine for transport in carry-on luggage on two occasions in October 2011, according to the indictment.
The new indictment charges Benjamin and Marrero with one count of drug conspiracy and two counts of aiding and abetting, the same charges they faced under previously filed indictments.
However, the Aug. 30 indictment contains charges specific to Underhill, who was arrested in Atlanta on July 25 and lives in Lithonia, Ga. He originally is from Tortola and has permanent resident status in the United States, according to court documents.
Another defendant in the case, Michael Samuels, is scheduled for re-arraignment today.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.