TSA contractors charged in drug smuggling scheme at SFO

Transportation Safety Administration agents screen a passenger at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, California  (Reuters)
Two TSA security contractors arrested by FBI at San Francisco international airport, along with a third suspect involved in the scheme, face life in prison for smuggling large quantities of methamphetamine through screen points.

Claudio Rene Sunux, 30, and Amanda Lopez, 27, were arrested on Friday by the FBI in San Francisco, Bay Area, on suspicion of smuggling pounds of methamphetamine. The two Covenant Aviation Security employees and a smuggler, 28-year-old Anibal Giovanni Ramirez, face a minimum 10 years and a maximum life sentence, and fine of $10 million.

All three have been charged with conspiracy to distribute narcotics and possession of narcotics, US Attorney Melinda Haag and the FBI said. Sunux and Lopez also face another 15 years and $25,000 or three times the money involved for allegedly accepting bribes as public officials. Ramirez faces the similar charges for bribing SFO employees.

Covenant Aviation Security is a private company under contract with the TSA that provides passenger and baggage screening at SFO.

The FBI investigation believed that Ramirez allegedly paid off the two security screeners at SFO, who allowed him to take drug-loaded luggage on a flight to Hawaii. The investigation also believes that the trio used Facebook to arrange the crime.

The investigation got under way last autumn, after an informant told the FBI that Ramirez was planning to ship drugs on commercial airlines. According to court documents, the informant met with Ramirez in San Francisco in a car equipped with video and audio surveillance, FBI Special Agent Timothy Hughes wrote in an affidavit, according to San Jose Mercury News.

Court documents also reveal that Ramirez admitted he had established a smuggling operation by working with two security screeners at the SFO. By bypassing the hand-luggage x-ray machines, he made “frequent” trips to Hawaii carrying large quantities of methamphetamine.

“The coffee is ready,” would be the code phrase used by Ramirez in Facebook messages to notify his two collaborators at the SFO of the attempted smuggle. The trio would then arrange a convenient time for him to bring the drugs through screening.

The feds used the informant in an undercover operation, where on September 17, the informant and Ramirez carried a bag of FBI-provided real and fake drugs through security. Sunux, Lopez and Ramirez are scheduled to appear in federal court next week.