BOSTON (AP) -- Five airline employees were charged Thursday in a sting operation with using their security clearances to secretly smuggle more than $400,000 in cash through Boston's Logan Airport.
Four ground operations crew members of JetBlue Airways and one Delta Air Lines customer service ramp agent were arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the Transportation Security Administration.
Federal prosecutors said they used their security clearance to circumvent TSA checkpoints and smuggle cash to secure areas such as passenger departure gates. In return, each allegedly received a payment from a cooperating witness who posed as a member of a drug-trafficking organization while working with law enforcement.
"Security at our nation's airports is paramount and the conduct alleged today is alarming," said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz. "Thanks to the hard work and commitment of the federal and state investigators and airline security personnel, a potentially dangerous breach in security was identified."
Prosecutors identified the JetBlue employees as: Rupert Crossley, 25, of Lynn; Alvin Leacock, 27, of Hollywood, Florida; Eric Vick, 24, of Boston; and Anthony Trotman, 24, of Boston. The Delta employee was identified as Dino Dunkley, 31, of Boston. Vick and Dunkley are accused of taking the smuggled cash aboard airline flights from Boston to Florida.
Trotman's attorney, Keith Halpern, said his client will plead not guilty.
"This is a case where the government created a crime, where they sent someone who was working for the government out with huge amounts of cash to see if they could entice people to do illegal activities," Halpern said.
Vick's attorney Ed Hayden said his client also is pleading not guilty. "We intend to investigate the government's role in instigating the offenses," Hayden said.
Attorneys for the other men did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
They made their initial court appearance Thursday and were ordered held until a detention hearing next week. If convicted, each faces up to 20 years in prison.
In an affidavit used to obtain a criminal complaint, Stephen Valentine, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, said the men took cash they believed was drug proceeds past TSA officials and security check points. Prosecutors said nine money-laundering transactions were completed involving approximately $417,000 in cash.
In his affidavit, Valentine said the five employees all had security badges, personal identification codes and biometric fingerprint clearances that allowed them to enter through unmanned security doors that lead to certain restricted locations and secure areas of Logan.
Valentine said the cooperating witness - a former airline employee - told authorities he believed other airline employees at Logan had used their TSA security clearance for illegal or improper purposes. The witness is a foreign national with a prior felony drug conviction and has continued to cooperate with law enforcement in exchange for "consideration for favorable immigration status," Valentine said.
At the direction of authorities, the witness told the airline employees he was a member of a drug trafficking group that was looking for help smuggling drug proceeds through security checkpoints so he could take the cash from Boston to Florida without TSA detection.
Delta said Dunkley has been suspended pending the final outcome of an internal Delta investigation.
"Delta is fully cooperating with law enforcement authorities in this matter," the airline said in a statement.
A spokesperson for JetBlue did not immediately return a call seeking comment.