Pubdate: Fri, 03 Nov 2000
Source: Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel (FL)
Copyright: 2000 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: John Holland


Those little bottles of booze that flight attendants hand out weren't the 
most potent things on many Servivensa flights into Miami, prosecutors said 
Thursday while announcing a major cocaine and heroin smuggling indictment.

Two Servivensa flight attendants strapped pounds of heroin to their bodies 
while working on flights from the airline's base in Caracas, Venezuela, the 
first leg in a distribution ring that ran from Florida to New York and 
Houston, U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis said.

In all, 17 people, including reputed ringleaders Carlos Ruiz-Patino and 
Gustavo Gutierrez of Miami, were named in the indictment. Customs agents 
arrested one flight attendant, Jill Salazar, when her flight arrived 
Thursday morning.

The other, Arelis Guanipa-Arejula, has been jailed since June after Customs 
officials caught her with more than two pounds of heroin, the indictment said.

Ruiz-Patino bragged to undercover agents that pilots helped smuggle the 
drugs, but so far there is no evidence against any other airline employees, 
Lewis said. Airline officials weren't involved in the drug running, he said.

The ring smuggled 33 to 45 pounds of heroin per week, with a wholesale 
value of about $42,000 a pound, officials said.

Vincent Mazzilli, the local head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, 
said all of the drugs originated in Colombia, which has become the largest 
supplier of heroin into the United States.

The investigation also led to other major drug busts, including 383 pounds 
of cocaine seized at the Aventura Mall in May. Those drugs were also 
controlled by the heroin ring, investigators said.

"This is a major, major supplier and we've been able to break it up from 
top to bottom,'' Lewis said. "This sends a message that things have changed 
at Miami International Airport."

Federal and state agencies held a news conference at the airport and used 
the forum to trumpet new security measures at the facility, which has been 
plagued by a series of security breaches in recent years. Last year, 
federal prosecutors called the airport a "sieve'' and said drugs and 
weapons -- including guns and a hand grenade -- were smuggled onto American 
Airlines flights during a sting dubbed "Operation Ramp Rat.''

All that has changed, officials said Thursday, and even Miami-Dade Mayor 
Alex Pinellas showed up to share in the kudos. About 600 smugglers have 
been arrested at the airport in the last year, Customs spokesman Zachary 
Mann said.

In fact, wire taps of the suspects' phones revealed that they were looking 
to start moving drugs through Mexico because of the new security measures, 
investigators said.

"Last year, we said that we'd be back announcing more arrests,'' Mazzilli 
said. "Well, we're back and we're not going away. There will be a lot more 
of this in the future.''
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