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Feds haul in pilots

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Well-known member
Nov 28, 2001
By Jody A. Benjamin
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 [email protected].
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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...
Otter, you should be bitter! As an American you should get the preferential treatment. Thats how it is in other countries.
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.

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