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Feds haul in pilots

flydog

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By Jody A. Benjamin
Sun-Sentinel
Posted February 9 2002

MIAMI -- Seven pilots and two airport ramp workers in Broward and Miami-Dade counties have been charged with possessing fraudulent immigration documents and Social Security cards, federal prosecutors said Saturday.

Some of them flew commercial jets crammed with passengers whose luggage, pockets and shoes had been checked by tightened airport security.

Others flew cargo planes, repaired engines or pumped tanks with fuel.

But all of the Venezuelan nationals were undocumented immigrants, according to federal authorities who announced a sweep of arrests at homes throughout the two counties intended to close a gaping loophole in airline and national security.

“They had no business in a cockpit flying these planes or transporting cargo,” said U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis. “They lied to get into the cockpit. What we’ve uncovered here is an organized conspiracy.”

Nine men, including a relative of one of the pilots, were arrested. One suspect remained at large.

The pilots were licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration but had no permission to fly planes in the United States, according to officials.

The pilots and airport workers paid up to $25,000 each for fraudulent stamps in their passports that allowed them, and in some cases their families, to enter the country while they supposedly awaited green cards. The fake stamps in red ink also allowed them to obtain Social Security cards and Florida driver’s licenses, officials said.

The case points to a gaping breach in airline security, as well as law enforcement’s heightened focus on the issue in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said Broward Sheriff Ken Jenne, who addressed a news conference at the Miami federal courthouse Saturday night.

“It is very disturbing to know that the very pilots flying our planes are here as illegal aliens having procured fraudulent documentation,” Jenne said. “Obviously airports are a major [security] concern now.”

Airline officials cooperated with law enforcement investigating the alleged illegal scheme, said Lewis.

Six pilots were arrested. Two worked for American Eagle, including one who flew between Miami and the Bahamas and another based in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. Two others flew cargo planes for Fort Lauderdale-based Express.net airlines. One flew for Fort Lauderdale-based Executive Jet. The sixth pilot flew for Tradewinds Airlines, a cargo line based in Fort Lauderdale.

Arrested were American Eagle pilot Pedro Agusti, American Eagle pilot Luis Garmendia, Express.net pilot Arnoldo Azara, Executive Jet Aviation pilot Pedro Bottome, Express.net pilot Ramon Castillo and pilot Juan Anibel Silva.

Also arrested Saturday were aircraft mechanic Luis Hernandez and fueler Luis Gonzalez.

Authorities were searching for a seventh pilot, Pedro Martinez Jr. who is thought to be in Venezuela. One of Martinez’s relatives, Pedro Martinez Sr., also was arrested.

Searching the suspects’ homes, federal agents seized passports with the fake stamps, phony letters from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and forged letters from the Venezuelan government, Lewis said.

“There are a number of other pilots we are going to be looking at,” said Lewis. “There could be more arrests in the coming days.”

They also have not yet arrested the people thought to have been selling the fake stamps.

The defendants were brought to the federal detention center Saturday night. Some are being held on immigration violations but they are expected to be criminally charged in the days ahead, officials said.

Authorities pointed to the arrests as one of the first key accomplishments of the newly created domestic terrorism task force.

“These are tangible results showing very clearly that federal, state and local authorities can work together as a united front,” Jenne said.

INS chief of investigations Jim Goldman said authorities received a tip from an informant, but he declined to elaborate. However, according to a criminal affidavit, Pedro Agusti came to INS offices last June to inform officials about the fraudulent scheme. Agusti told an INS agent he had paid two people $2,800 in exchange for a fake stamp in his passport that he could later use to get a Social Security card.

Agusti gave officials a list of 30 additional people he knew had also fraudulently acquired stamps.

Last Monday, another man, Franceso Baffone, came to INS and described a similar scheme, according to the affidavit.

The person selling the fake stamps told the buyers they also eventually would receive legal permanent U.S. residency status, he said.

“They wanted to live in the United States and work as commercial pilots,” Goldman said. “The people purchasing these stamps were under the impression that they were living here scot-free and that green cards were coming in the mail.”

Jody A. Benjamin can be reached at 954-356-4530 or jbenjamin@sun-sentinel.com.
 

jaybird

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Were any of those Eagle guys not on furlough? Maybe my American friends who are on furlough can get their jobs back. I know people come to America for opportunity and the people who do it the right way desereve to have a chance to work. However it really burns me up when it takes an event like 9/11 to kick our government agencies into working for what they are actually paid to do.
 

avbug

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The times, they are a changin'. We worry about illegals crossing the rio grande in an effort to feed their families, when the jobs they take are ones that most citizens feel are beneath them, and won't do. We complain about illegals entering the country and sapping social security and welfare, though most can't get it. Here we have people who for all intents and purposes really ought to be here, are performing legitimate work, aren't from a "terrorist state," and who thought they would be getting a legitimate work visa.

Their real crime falls roughly in the same moral category as those who buy their jobs; in this case, they felt that they were buying their entry into the US.

These are pilots, who were working along side some of us. I don't see that avaition or the industry has a black eye, though this doesn't help the public perception, either. Quite honestly, I feel bad for those involved.
 

skytrucker

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dirty little secret

If you don't already know it by now;

If you have the cash, one can obtain almost ANY form of I.D or documentation. There a cases of people working in every profession that got in with false credentials. F.B.I, DEA, Customs, police, and the list goes on. Keep in mind these were the ones that got caught! There are thousands more out there working now.

So sleep well, and don't forget to take the tweezers out of you carry-on.
 

frenchy

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When you buy for 25K a visa from a private individual, unless you a total idiot you know that you are buying a forged document, therefore they are guilty as you can be and who knows what other lies?
 

browntail

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I don't feel sorry for these guys at all. If they want to fly planes so bad, then go fly them in their own country legally. I wonder how many more are out there?
 

OtterFO

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When they where laying off people (including me) from my King Air gig, they kept the Itialian citizen w/o a work permit. The three americans where "put on contract." I was bitter...
 

browntail

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Otter, you should be bitter! As an American you should get the preferential treatment. Thats how it is in other countries.
 

enigma

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BluesClues said:
Now there's a black eye for the profession. :(

I don't see this as a black eye for aviation, I see it as another black eye for our federal government. It is not aviation who regulates immigration, it is INS, Customs, Border Patrol, etc. If these people were in the US illegally, that would point directly towards those who are tasked with controlling the activity in question.
regards
 

ksu_aviator

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Ok....say it with me...ILLEGAL imigrant. I think its about time these people are shipped out. I don't care what their intentions are, if they brake the law they should be punished. These aren't border jumping Mexicans working as laborers. These people went to great lengths and spent a lot of money to appear legal. That in itself hints at organization. If they are organized, not necessarily with each other, but with some group, then we have to assume that they have other intentions. Even though, it is likely that these ILLEGAL imigrants just wanted to work, we can't chance it.
 

SF3CAP

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Chill out guys. This guy in Dallas was a First Officer on the Saab, supporting his entire family here and at home in Venezuela. Apparently he came forward to the INS, they didn't go after him.

I haven't personally flown with him, but I hear he's a great guy and a great worker. He's a fellow pilot, and I'm going to do what I can to support him and his family. Before we all attack this guy, I think we should all get the facts.
 

aggiepilot87

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If he was an ILLEGAL ALIEN then he should be deported - no questions asked. I don't really care if he was a father, a husband or even a real good guy. What does that have to do with this?

Why even bother with the immigration laws if the bleeding hearts are just going to give in and let all the foreign nationals walk in and displace US citizens?

Not all jobs in this country held by ILLEGAL ALIENS are in the lawn care or ditch digging business. Try engineering, computer programming, medical, etc... Was he in a job "no US citizen would have"? Nope. I'd take that FO job, RIGHT NOW. And yes, I am qualified.
 

Pilotadjuster

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Illegal aliens

Guess I have to agree with Aggie on this to some degree; the guy not only gives the industry a black eye, but really gives those people who go to the trouble, time and effort to go through the system and become LEGAL aliens a black eye. And what about those people (most of us have a few relatives somewhere in our past or present who did this by the way!) who come to this country legally, work hard, and become naturalized citizens!

If we continue to let this go on, more and more illegals will come over and will have the attitude that "whats the difference? why take the trouble to become legal or a citizen if I can work anyway?".

It does however say volumes about the man's character that he turned himself in rather than being caught.

PA

Also--Aggie--I had no high opinion of Pointers when I was in the Army, but did GSP really say that? He was a WP grad, albeit one who had to go to junior college to get in and finished near the bottom of his class (he was dislecsic (sp?) - not much help back then for that, so he just had to get through any way he could). Always been a big admirer of his, as I was Armor as well...
 
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aggiepilot87

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Pilotadjuster -

I've seen this GSP quote in several different sources, several of which were sources close to A&M. But, as far as I know, he did say it. I'll see if I can find some info on the context of the quote and pass it to you.
 

DaveGriffin

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Illegal Venezuelan vs. Aggie

I think I'd rather fly with an illegal Venezuelan than a civvy trained Aggie.
 

Cornelius

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Venuezela and Mexico? Forget about those guys. We need to worry about our neighbors to the north. Unprotected borders and no aviation jobs up there. The US is a stalking ground for our northerly brothers/sisters. Not only are they taking our airline dream jobs but US women love canucks. Greencard anyone?


P.S. I'm just joking around with this. I have dual citizenship with Canada so nobody flame me.
 

aggiepilot87

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DaveGriffin -

I would have given anything to have passed the medical and a shot at earning the Wings of Gold. Just wouldn't happen with my eyes 14 years ago. Now I hear they'll take you with surgery. guess I was born in the wrong generation.
 
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