News Release
March 15, 2010
Paul Knierim
Public Information Officer

Former American Airlines Employee Sentenced to 240 Months in Prison for Smuggling Drugs into the United States

MAR 15 -- NEW YORK – A former American Airlines employee, who was convicted to smuggling cocaine, was sentenced to 20 years in a federal prison and criminal forfeiture of $3,160,000, following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Oneal Roberts, 52, of Queens, was convicted on June 30, 2009, by a federal jury to knowingly and intentionally conspiring to import and distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine into the United States. Roberts was part of a ring of corrupt American Airlines employees who schemed to off-load smuggled drugs from commercial aircrafts arriving in the United States from Barbados and elsewhere. Roberts would retrieve the drugs and circumvent further inspection by Customs and Border Protection authorities.

In his former position with American Airlines, Roberts, also known as “Shabba”, was a scheduling officer and crew chief, responsible for creating the work schedules for the ground crews. Roberts had unrestricted access to international cargo and passenger flights arriving into John F. Kennedy International airport. Roberts used a computer tracking system to track specific flights he knew contained drugs hidden onboard. Roberts would then assign baggage crews composed of other members of the drug smuggling conspiracy to off-load flights containing the drugs.

“This sentencing sends a strong message that corrupt airline employees who conspire to smuggle drugs through our airports will not go unnoticed,” said James T. Hayes, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in New York. “Drug smuggling is a serious crime and ICE will use all of its investigative resources to keep illegal drugs off our streets.”

Roberts’ sentencing is a result of Operation American Tide, an ICE-led investigation coordinated with assistance from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Administration Group D-36, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Special Agent in Charge Hayes extended his appreciation to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York for prosecuting this case and to American Airlines for their assistance in this investigation.