VAN NUYS DRUGPORT? TRAFFICKERS USED CHARTER JET SERVICE, AUTHORITIES SAY; 8 ARRESTS MADE.Byline: Andrea Cavanaugh and James Nash Staff Writers
A major Mexican drug-smuggling ring operated for years through Van Nuys Airport Van Nuys Airport (IATA: VNY, ICAO: KVNY, FAA LID: VNY) is a public airport located in Van Nuys, California in the San Fernando Valley, within the Los Angeles city limits. , where a charter jet company provided pickup and delivery services for at least three years without interference from customs agents or police, federal officials said Thursday.
Eight people were arrested as part of Operation Jamaican Express West, a two-year, multiagency investigation that focused on the activities of SmoothAir Aviation of Van Nuys. The suspects transported marijuana, cocaine and other drugs concealed in music-instrument cases and suitcases, federal agents said.
In a criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office, the charter company's co-owner Clarence Adolphus, 46, of Moorpark, is accused of telling Mexican drug traffickers they should use SmoothAir because his jets, unlike passenger planes at major airports, were not subject to police searches.
``There's a certain ingenuity in terms of offering this service to drug couriers,'' said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office. ``He would tell people they could avoid detection.''
The investigation was launched in late 2002 after authorities seized 560 pounds of marijuana, valued at more than $1 million, and $854,000 in cash from two SmoothAir jets. Authorities said they later linked Adolphus and Lester Aubrey Bull, 40, of Diamond Bar, who is a fugitive, to large cocaine shipments in 2001.
In November 2003, federal agents seized a huge shipment of drugs - including 345 pounds of marijuana and 20,000 tablets of the rave drug Ecstacy - that was supposed to be transported from Van Nuys to Atlanta aboard a flight Adolphus is accused of arranging.
Authorities said the shipment was owned by Mauricio Torres, 31, of Compton, who was among the suspects arrested Thursday. He and co-defendant Daniel Franco-Acuna, 35, of Norwalk are suspected of being high-ranking members of a drug ring with ties to Guadalajara, Mexico, officials said.
A criminal complaint filed March 26 accused Adolphus, Bull, Torres and Franco-Acuna, along with Juan Franco, 33, of Maywood; Pablo Rodolfo Miranda, 38, of Compton; and Ramon Castillo Martinez, 32, of Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850. of money laundering The process of taking the proceeds of criminal activity and making them appear legal.
Laundering allows criminals to transform illegally obtained gain into seemingly legitimate funds. and conspiracy to distribute controlled substances controlled substance n. a drug which has been declared by federal or state law to be illegal for sale or use, but may be dispensed under a physician's prescription. .
Also arrested Thursday were Blossom Marie Thorndike, 26, of Moorpark and Marybeth Emberland, 45, of Woodland Hills, who were charged with structuring cash transactions.
The six men were being held without bail, and Emberland and Thorndike were being held in lieu of $25,000 bail. Their arraignments were set for April 19.
Incorporation documents filed with the state list Craig Emberland of Woodland Hills as president of SmoothAir. Craig Emberland, who was not named in the criminal complaint, has an unlisted telephone number and could not be reached for comment.
Although investigators claim that SmoothAir used Van Nuys Airport to smuggle smug·gle
v. smug·gled, smug·gling, smug·gles
1. To import or export without paying lawful customs charges or duties.
2. To bring in or take out illicitly or by stealth. drugs for at least the past three years, officials at the city- owned airport have no record of the company's being based there, spokeswoman Linda Green Linda Green is a British television comedy-drama series that lasted for two seasons, screened in 2001 and 2002. The twenty half-hour episodes (ten in each season) were broadcast on BBC One and produced for the BBC by the independent Red Production Company. said. The company's incorporation papers list an address on Vanowen Street as its headquarters, but there was no sign of the company there Thursday.
Investigators believe Franco-Acuna and Miranda worked for the Guadalajaran drug smugglers, Mrozek said. Martinez is accused of transporting the drugs seized in November 2003, and Thorndike and Marybeth Emberland are employees of SmoothAir accused of depositing large amounts of cash received from the smugglers, he said.
The investigation involved agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was established in 1973 by President richard m. nixon as part of the Justice Department, thus uniting a number of federal drug agencies that had often worked at cross-purposes. , the Internal Revenue Service and others.
``These guys were facilitators,'' DEA DEA - Data Encryption Algorithm spokesman Jose Martinez said. ``This business was providing the means to transport any kind of commodity from foreign countries to the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. .''
Companies that fly between the United States and foreign countries are required to notify the U.S. Customs and Border Protection U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a bureau of the United States Department of Homeland Security, is charged with regulating and facilitating international trade, collecting import duties, and enforcing U.S. trade laws. Agency, although it was unclear whether SmoothAir had done so, customs spokesman Michael Fleming Michael Valentine Fleming (1913 - 1 October 1940) was the son of Valentine Fleming and brother of Ian Fleming and Peter Fleming.
He married Letitia Blanche Borthwick, daughter of Hon. Malcolm Algernon Borthwick and Blanche Buckland Gorrie, on 28 July 1934. said.
Cargo and passengers are inspected at random, he said.
``They have to report when they're arriving and leaving,'' he said. ``We don't necessarily inspect every flight.''
Andrea Cavanaugh, (805) 583-7602