In a recent blog, I talked about the two types of airline personnel who steal from passengers: the professionals who target other criminals and the morons who target everyday passengers.
The professionals profile their victims. If you paid cash for your ticket on the same day as your flight, there’s a good chance you’re moving drugs and/or money, so you might never see your bags again. Homeland Security actually uses the same system today to profile potential risk passengers.
The professionals were especially watching for passengers going to: Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Panama, Port-Au-Prince, Santo Domingo, and, in the States, Los Angeles, NYC, and Miami. Why? Because they are the biggest suppliers of drugs to the United States. The drugs come in. How do you get the payment home? Often in luggage. (Although, since I knew about the profiling, I always urged my cartel contacts to bring it home in other ways.)
Before 911, security at Miami International was a joke. There was a lot of money to be made in the drug trade, and many of the workers were cashing in. Certain flights were well-known to be “money flights,” either because drugs were easily moved on those flights or a passenger had been profiled and there was likely to be drugs and/or money on board. The crew chief coordinator was in on it and would move in his “professional” crew to take advantage. There were actually fist-fights in the locker room as people battled over territory.
My first involvement with the money flights was not by design. In 1997, I was new at my job as Crew Chief in the outbound room, overseeing domestic and international flights. I was aware of the trafficking of currency and, one night, a crew member asked if I would send my workers on break and let his crew “close out” the flight from Bogota. Did I know what he was doing? Probably, but I respected him, so I turned a blind eye. All I cared about was him gettting the paperwork to me on time.
About a week later, the same guy asked me to meet with him in his car. He pressed a button and a secret compartment opened. A vacuum-sealed plastic bag fell to the floor.
“This is your cut,” he said.
I picked it up. There were a lot of Benjamins in there. I stared at it, thinking about how it would give me breathing room during the messy break-up with my wife, Maya. I took the money. And that was the beginning of the end for me. My values and, eventually, my freedom came to a full stop.
The complete story of my time smuggling drugs for a Colombia cartel and working as a DEA confidential informant will be in my forthcoming memoir, The Baggage Handler.