ST. CROIX MAN PLEADS GUILTY TO STASHING FIVE KILOGRAMS OF COCAINE IN LIFE VEST COMPARTMENTS ONBOARD AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT TO MIAMI

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

ST. THOMAS, USVI – U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert announced that Luis Ortiz, Jr., 25, of St. Croix pleaded guilty on March 1, 2022, before Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller to Conspiracy to Possess with Intent to Distribute Five or more Kilograms of Cocaine. Ortiz remains on supervised release pending sentencing.

According to court documents, on June 20, 2019, Ortiz and a co-defendant recruited two individuals to smuggle five bricks of cocaine from St. Croix to Miami, FL, onboard American Airlines flight #2227 on July 11, 2019. On the evening of July 10, 2019, surveillance footage from the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport captured Ortiz, who was employed as a contractor to clean the aircrafts, boarding the American Airlines aircraft wearing an oversized jacket. While onboard, Ortiz walked directly to rows 17 and 18 and closed the windows of both rows. Eight minutes later, Ortiz exited the aircraft carrying packages that were consistent in size with the life vests that were removed from rows 17 and 18.

Later that morning, Ortiz’s co-defendant arranged with an American Airlines gate agent to preboard two persons who were later identified as the smugglers. Once onboard, Ortiz’s codefendant instructed one of the two smugglers to retrieve cocaine from the life vest compartments located under seats 17A and 17B.

Flight #2227 departed the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport at approximately 8:00 a.m., and upon its arrival in Miami at approximately 11:00 a.m., the two smugglers were arrested by Customs and Border Protection officers. Both pleaded guilty to Possession with Intent to Distribute Cocaine and were sentenced in the Southern District of Florida District Court.

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At sentencing, Ortiz faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years of incarceration and a maximum fine of $10,000,000.00. Ortiz also faces a term of five years of supervised release and a special assessment of $100.00.

This case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations, St Croix Resident Office,
and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Delia Smith.

The investigation is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at
https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.