Washington -- Tons of marijuana was shipped cross-country by overnight FedEx Corp. air delivery with the assistance of as many as 25 company drivers, customer service representatives and a security agent, U.S. drug authorities charged today.
A single FedEx airplane carried as much as 5,000 pounds of marijuana packed into standard shipping boxes, said Rod Benson, an assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's special operations unit in Lorton, Virginia.FedEx drivers were paid as much as $2,000 a week to help deliver boxes of marijuana that were flown from Los Angeles International Airport to cities on the East Coast, including New York; Newark, New Jersey; Atlanta; and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the DEA said.
Agents who arrested one driver today at his home in New Jersey found $15,000 in cash in a shoebox, Benson said. A FedEx Corp. security agent who was charged with assisting the drug ring was paid at least $30,000, Benson said.
FedEx security officials assisted DEA agents in the nearly two-year-old investigation of drug shipments by the Arellano-Felix drug cartel, described by one DEA agent as one of Mexico's most ruthless drug organizations, based in Tijuana, south of San Diego, Benson said.
The investigation began in July 1998, when a FedEx employee who discovered a package of marijuana that was being shipped from Los Angeles alerted DEA, said Robert Bryden, the company's vice president for security and a retired DEA official.
"DEA, through some means of their own quickly decided this was an important investigation" and asked the company not to take action against employees suspected of assisting drug traffickers, Bryden said. "Had we done that, our exposure would have been limited early on to a very few number of employees," he said.
Instead, the investigation continued undercover and enabled authorities to identify as many as 25 FedEx employees and some former company employees as suspects, Benson said. The company's security force, which uses drug-sniffing dogs, intercepted marijuana deliveries during the investigation, he said.
Ten Fed Ex employees and another 15 alleged members of the drug organizations were in custody today on a variety of drug trafficking charges, Benson said. Three customer service representatives are among those charged in the case, he said.
Altogether between 60 and 70 people are charged in arrest warrants being served today, he said.
Before today's arrests, the investigation dubbed "Operation Green Air" had resulted in 56 arrests and the seizure of 30,000 pounds of marijuana and $4 million in cash, Benson said.
Marijuana was smuggled across the U.S.-Mexican border to Los Angeles where it was stored in warehouses operated by the Tijuana cartel or Jamaican drug traffickers working with the Arellano-Felix organization, Benson said.
Drug traffickers bought hundreds of standard shipping boxes in which marijuana was packed for overnight flights that left Los Angeles International Airport at 7 p.m. The FedEx service guarantees delivery on the East Coast by 10 a.m. the next day.
Shipments were primarily made to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport and Newark International Airport in nearby Newark, New Jersey, Benson said. Other shipments bound for Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale were often routed through FedEx's Memphis operations hub, he said. Deliveries were also made to Boston and locations in Connecticut, he said.
Shares of FedEx declined 1 7/16 to 40 1/8 in early trading.
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