Feds: West New York man 1 of 4 flight attendants smuggling drug money to DR


A West New York man is one of four flight attendants charged with struggling drug money to the Dominican Republican, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damien Williams announced.

Instagram photo.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“As alleged, these flight attendants smuggled millions of dollars of drug money and law enforcement funds that they thought was drug money from the United States to the Dominican Republic over many years by abusing their privileges as airline employees,” Williams said in a statement.

“[Yesterday]’s charges should serve as a reminder to those who break the law by helping drug traffickers move their money that crime doesn’t pay.”

Charlie Hernandez, 42, of West New York, and, Sarah Valerio Pujols, 42, of Bronx, New York, Emmanuel Torres, 34, of Brooklyn, New York, and Jarol Fabio, 35, of New York, New York, are each charged with one count of operation of an unlicensed money transmission business, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and one count of entering an airport or aircraft area in violation of security requirements.

Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, while Pujols and Hernandez are additionally charged with one count of conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmission business, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Pujols is further charged with one count of bulk cash smuggling, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Beginning as early as 2014, all of the defendants were employed as flight attendants with different international airlines that operated routes between New York City and the Dominican Republic, according to the two criminal complaints.

All of the defendants had “Known Crewmember” (“KCM”) status with the Transportation Security Administration, which allowed them to pass through a special security lane at John F. Kennedy International Airport and other airports with less scrutiny than normal passengers.

In total, the defendants smuggled approximately $8 million in bulk cash from the United States to the Dominican Republic.

Before his or her arrest in about October 2021, a cooperating witness operated a significant money laundering organization in New York City, specializing in the movement of cash proceeds from narcotics sales from New York City to the Dominican Republic.

One method that CW-1 used in furtherance of his or her MLO was corrupting flight attendants, like the defendants, who worked routes between New York City and the Dominican Republic.

In exchange for a fee – which generally amounted to a small percentage of the amount of money that they would be smuggling – the defendants accepted bulk cash from CW-1 in New York City, got it past airport security via the KCM lane, and passed it off to other members of CW-1’s MLO in the Dominican Republic, including another cooperating witness.

After CW-1 and CW-2 began cooperating with law enforcement, HSI orchestrated a number of sting operations in which CW-1 provided law enforcement funds represented to be narcotics proceeds to the defendants, who then smuggled it down to the Dominican Republic and handed it off to CW-2.

“As alleged, the defendants knowingly smuggled large amounts of illicit money linked to the sale of narcotics, to include fentanyl, and took advantage of airport security checkpoints by using their trusted positions as flight attendants. This investigation has exposed critical vulnerabilities in the airline security industry and has illuminated methods that narcotics traffickers are utilizing,” added HSI Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Arvelo.

“[Yesterday]’s announcement should serve as a warning to all airline personnel: HSI New York will not tolerate employees’ attempts to abuse their power for the sake of transporting illicit goods. I commend El Dorado Task Force’s Transnational Criminal Enterprise Investigations Group and our partners in the public and private sectors for recognizing the seriousness of this issue.”

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