Feds: 29 Cargo Workers, Others Ran Drugs Through Miami Airport

A drug ring based at Miami International Airport used cargo workers to smuggle cocaine and heroin for the past five years, authorities said Thursday in announcing charges against 29 people.

The 12 cargo workers named in the indictment worked for airlines that operate internationally and were not employees of the airport itself.

"You clearly had conspirators on the inside to help that take place," U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta said of the drug operation. "That raises alarms about what may or may not be smuggled through these channels."

More than 500 pounds of cocaine and 81 pounds of heroin were seized. Of the 29 defendants, 18 are in custody in the U.S. and six in Colombia, Acosta said. Five are at large.

The cargo workers who were allegedly part of the drug ring all had jobs at an airport ramp and warehouse that can serve up to 20 cargo flights at a time. They worked together on unloading drug shipments, sharing information about planes and loads and watching for surveillance, according to court papers.

Airport communications and security chief Lauren Stover told Congress that past drug trafficking rings led to improved security such as more criminal background checks.

"In many ways, MIA was ahead of its time in terms of security measures," Stover said in written testimony to a transportation security panel of the House Homeland Security Committee.

About 30,000 people work at the airport, Stover said.