Pubdate: Fri, 14 Jan 2000
Source: Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (FL)
Copyright: 2000 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: John Holland, Sun-Sentinel


(Miami)---- Federal agents said on Thursday they are stunned that jurors
acquitted an American Airlines employee who admitted taking a bribe to
smuggle three hand grenades and a gun onto a full passenger plane.

"With all of the evidence that we had -- he even admitted everything
- -- this is pretty hard to believe," said Ed Halley of the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, one of several agencies that helped
bust dozens of employees last summer in "Operation Ramp Rat."

Edwin Rodriguez, 32, and 58 other workers were arrested in August at
Miami International Airport and charged with conspiring to smuggle
guns, cocaine, heroin and explosives onto American Airlines passenger
planes. A Miami federal court jury acquitted him on Wednesday.

The employees thought the drug ring was run by a major dealer. In
fact, the ring was a fake, organized and operated by the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, U.S. Customs and the Drug Enforcement

So far, 22 employees have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing,
while several others are negotiating plea deals, federal prosecutors
said. The sentences are expected to be between four and six years in
federal prison.

Victor Montalvo, also charged with smuggling a hand grenade, has
already pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.

Rodriguez's attorney, Louis Casuso, argued that the entire operation
amounted to entrapment. Casuso said the federal agents dangled $15,000
in front of Rodriguez to get him to carry the weapons on the airliner.

"Jurors don't like entrapment and that's exactly what this was,"
Casuso said. "My client works 13, 14 hours a day, he has another job
at Home Depot. He isn't a drug dealer and, even though what he did is
very bad, it wouldn't have happened if the (federal agencies) weren't
trying to get headlines.

"The jury followed the law, so I wasn't too surprised by the verdict,"
said Casuso, whose client turned down a plea deal of six years in
prison. "He'd still be selling paint at Home Depot for extra money if
they didn't trap him. He had no intent to violate the law."

The U.S. Attorney's Office did not comment, in part because
prosecutors do not want this acquittal to jeopardize the other
plea-bargain deals. Halley of the ATF said that despite the acquittal,
the investigation was needed.
John Holland can be reached at  or
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