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News Release
April 1, 2004

Federal Authorities Arrest Nine Linked to Drug Operation That Used Private Jets to Smuggle Narcotics Across the U.S.

A wiretap investigation which examined the use of private jets based at Van Nuys Airport to transport illegal drugs resulted today in the arrest of nine defendants. The arrests are the result of Operation Jamaican Express West, which focused on the activities of SmoothAir Aviation, a charter company that allegedly facilitated the shipment of narcotics.

From Left to Right: Marijuana Seized During Operation Jamaican Express, Ecstasy Tablets Seized During Operation Jamaican Express and A seized box of Ecstasy Tablets marked with the logo that was stamped on many of the tablets.
From Left to Right: Marijuana Seized During Operation Jamaican Express, Ecstasy Tablets Seized During Operation Jamaican Express and A seized box of Ecstasy Tablets marked with the logo that was stamped on many of the tablets.

The defendants in this case are charged in a criminal complaint with multiple conspiracies to distribute controlled substances, money laundering and structuring cash transactions. The criminal complaint, which was filed on March 26, charges the following individuals:

  • Clarence Rudolph Adolphus, 46, of Moorpark, who is co-owner of SmoothAir Aviation;
  • Mauricio Torres, 31, of Compton;
  • Daniel Franco-Acuna, 35, of Norwalk;
  • Juan Franco, 33, of Maywood;
  • Lester Aubrey Bull, 40, of Diamond Bar, who is the owner of World Class Coachworks (also known as World Coachworks or World Color World) in the Hyde Park section of Los Angeles;
  • Pablo Rodolfo Miranda, 38, of Compton;
  • Ramon Castillo Martinez, 32, of the Echo Park section of Los Angeles;
  • Marybeth Emberland, 45, of Woodland Hills;
  • Blossom Marie Thorndike, 26, of Moorpark.

Operation Jamaican Express West began in late 2002, following the seizures of 560 pounds of marijuana (with a wholesale value of up to $1.1 million) and $854,000 in cash from two separate private jet flights. Federal agents began to investigate SmoothAir Aviation, which arranged the flights out of Van Nuys Airport. The affidavit in support of the criminal complaint revealed that Adolphus and Bull had been linked to large cocaine shipments by private jet aircraft in 2001.

In June 2003, according to the affidavit, investigators began using wiretaps on Adolphus’ cellular telephones, as well as phones used by his clients, including Torres and Franco, both of whom are suspected of being high-ranking members of a large trafficking organization that has ties to narcotics traffickers in Guadalajara.

The complaint alleges that Adolphus offered private jet travel from Los Angeles to any city and that he promoted the service by claiming his flights were not subject to searches and inspections required of commercial passenger flights at major airports. Therefore, he assured traffickers, they could fly their illegal cargo without risk of interference by the police. Information obtained during the investigation showed that Torres and others used Adolphus’ services to move drug loads without detection. In fact, Torres told Adolphus in 2003 that his confederates in Guadalajara wanted the exclusive use of Adolphus’ private jet for six months to one year. However, on November 11, 2003, agents seized a large shipment of drugs that was supposed to be transported by private jet arranged by Adolphus. The shipment, belonging to Torres, was removed from a jet leaving for Atlanta and included more than 20,000 tablets of the club drug ecstasy and more than 345 pounds of marijuana.

This investigation was conducted under the auspices of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) as a cooperative effort between the Drug Enforcement Administration, IRS-Criminal Investigation, and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Police Apprehension Crime Task Force (LA IMPACT).


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