Alex Constantine - June 13, 2007
" ... A key to their plan was to use their airport-security identification cards as Comair employees to access restricted areas and evade security checkpoints set up by the Transportation Security Administration, according to an arrest affidavit. ... "
Comair personnel were caught transporting arms to Peurto Rico. As it happens, CIA contractors have been operating in Puerto Rico (See my Monday, January 22, 2007 posting: "LEXINGTON COMAIR CRASH – PATH TO 9/11 SUPPLEMENTAL: COMPUTER SCIENCES CORPORATION (CSC), DYNCORP, HANI HANJOUR, COVERT OPS IN PUERTO RICO"), so the guns have proven very useful down there, no doubt.
Contractors in Puerto Rico?? This is an excerpt from the January posting:
"DYNCORP TENTACLES IN PUERTO RICO: This topic has been considered to hot to handle by the local press.
"Dyncorp a corporation that has been accused of sex slave trade in Bosnia, close ties to the CIA, part of Plan Colombia and that currently has an army of mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan is now assembling deadly state of the art Cobra helicopters in a civilian airport which 30 years ago was used by the Strategic Air Command in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
"These pictures speak for themselves. No armed military personnel are guarding these sophisticated killer machines. As you can see no markings are visible in these ready to fly killer birds."
Glimpse of future installments: The Comair board of directors is relevant to this activity, and one or two names from the Comair proxy statement alone sheds further light on the crash.
Take a head start. READ THE COMAIR SERIES in the 2006-07 archives, start researching the Comair board – and savor the process of geopolitical revelation.
One more glimpse: A name critical to investigation of 9/11 is very relevant to the Comair crash, as well - WARREN BUFFETT. He has multiple connections to the deaths on Flight 5191.
I'm spilling this information now in the interest of justice. Buffett is very bleak news, and his public profile is a duplicitous cover story. Buffett, whose father was a Bircher, is a fascist and a covert operator. Like Kissinger, his public persona is a useful fiction, but fascist amorality lurks at the core.
Pedro Ruz Gutierrez and Jeannette Rivera-Lyles
Sentinel Staff Writers
Posted June 8 2007
An airline worker who used his badge to foil security checkpoints at Orlando International Airport pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges he smuggled drugs and guns to his native Puerto Rico.
As Zabdiel Santiago-Balaguer, 22, admitted his role in Orlando federal court, senators in the U.S. commonwealth passed a bill that would close the loophole in airline procedures that allows legitimate travelers to easily transport firearms to the island.
For years, gunrunners have been taking advantage of lax airline rules to import the weapons that have fueled the island's illegal-gun market. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms estimates that up to two-thirds of the guns come from Florida.
In March, Santiago-Balaguer was arrested and named the ringleader in a gun-and drug-smuggling operation after a fellow airline employee was arrested at San Juan's airport with 14 guns and 8 pounds of marijuana he had carried onto a Delta Air Lines flight.
The incident prompted Congress to mandate a full review of security procedures at the nation's airports and call for background checks of all employees with access to secure areas by the Transportation Security Administration. OIA has already begun to screen all workers.
The case also highlights the widespread problem of stolen guns that runs parallel to a growing crime wave in Central Florida. The Sentinel recently reported that several Orange County residents suspected in area gun-shop thefts sold firearms to Santiago-Balaguer and other co-defendants.
On Thursday, Santiago-Balaguer, shackled at the feet and wearing an Orange County Jail jumpsuit, told U.S. District Court Judge John Antoon II he was responsible for the contraband.
"I was smuggling guns and marijuana through the airport as an airline employee," Santiago-Balaguer said in federal court. The Kissimmee resident, who is being held without bail, is the first to work out a deal with the government. There are at least five other defendants who have been charged in the case.
Santiago-Balaguer is a former employee of Comair, a Delta subsidiary. He faces up to 15 years in prison on charges of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute at least 10 pounds of cocaine and using and carrying a firearm in relation to a drug-trafficking crime.
According to a 20-page plea agreement he signed with the U.S. Attorney's Office on Monday, Santiago-Balaguer will cooperate with authorities and as a result may get a reduced prison term at his Sept. 5 sentencing.
FBI and Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation agents began tracking Santiago-Balaguer in January, the plea says. At Super Bowl XLI in Miami, the Kissimmee resident unknowingly introduced his source of cocaine on the island to an undercover agent.
During the game, according to court records, Santiago-Balaguer "discussed shipping guns and marijuana to Puerto Rico and obtaining cocaine and heroin from Puerto Rico."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Vincent Citro said Santiago-Balaguer acted as a translator and go-between when he set up a cocaine deal with the undercover agent in Miami. Assistant Federal Public Defender Stephen Langs would not comment Thursday.
The bill in the Puerto Rico Legislature, sponsored by Sen. Lucy Arce, will require airlines and cruise ships to ensure that people entering Puerto Rico with guns have a valid license. If they don't, the bill mandates that the airline or cruise line hold and turn over the weapons to police.
If a resident of Puerto Rico, the gun owner could apply for a license to legally possess the gun on the island. If the gun owner is a tourist, he or she would have to relinquish the weapons and get them back when ready to leave the island. A companion bill to the one passed Thursday could be taken up in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives as early as next week. The sponsor, Rep. Jorge Colberg Toro, predicted it would pass without opposition. "It will be the law of the land in 30 days or less," Colberg Toro said.
Currently, no federal government agency regulates the transport of guns by passengers on domestic flights. Instead, airlines regulate themselves.
American Airlines allows up to five guns, three rifle-type weapons and 11 pounds of ammunition per passenger. The weapons must be unloaded, secured in locked boxes and packed in checked luggage.
But in order to legally carry weapons in Puerto Rico, a state-issued license is required. Thus, passengers who bring guns in from other destinations are breaking the law unless they secure a Puerto Rico license.
The airlines, Arce and Colberg Toro said, have not opposed the measure so far.
"I don't know what's there for them to oppose," Colberg Toro said. "It is unconceivable to let things go the way they have. We have investigated, and the findings show that this loophole in the law is fueling the illegal-weapons market."
SENTINEL SPECIAL REPORT
Authorities: Suspects are in criminal group based at OIA
Pedro Ruz Gutierrez and Jeannette Rivera-Lyles | Sentinel Staff Writers
Posted March 8, 2007
... Santiago-Balaguer, a customer-service agent for Comair, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines, was arrested late Tuesday night after Puerto Rico authorities had nabbed his accomplice, identified as Thomas Anthony Munoz, a day earlier.
Records state Santiago-Balaguer, also known as "Zab," recruited Munoz and offered him up to $5,000 to transport the drugs and guns. Santiago-Balaguer, according to an arrest affidavit, had told Munoz he already had made several gun- and drug-smuggling runs to the island from Orlando.
The Osceola County residents, both 22, are being held without bail on charges of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and possession of firearms during the commission of a drug-trafficking offense.
More arrests possible
In Orlando's federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Vincent Citro hinted Wednesday that more arrests may come by this weekend.
"The arrests are part of a larger, long-term investigation," Citro told U.S. Magistrate James Glazebrook.
Citro said agents will respond to developments in the case and may take "additional enforcement actions."
Assistant Federal Public Defender Stephen Langs, Santiago-Balaguer's court-appointed attorney, would not comment on the case.
Santiago-Balaguer, authorities say, recruited Munoz to bring the guns and drugs as carry-on luggage on Delta Air Lines Flight 933 to Puerto Rico on Monday morning. The two met last weekend to package and seal the contraband and plan their entry into one of airport's restricted departure-gate areas.
A key to their plan was to use their airport-security identification cards as Comair employees to access restricted areas and evade security checkpoints set up by the Transportation Security Administration, according to an arrest affidavit.
Early Monday morning, Munoz hid a duffel bag with 13 handguns, a .223-caliber rifle and 8 pounds of marijuana in a secure area near his departure gate, Munoz told authorities. Before boarding his flight, he retrieved the duffel bag and brought it onboard the jet bound for San Juan.
Munoz and Santiago-Balaguer were supposed to fly together to the U.S. commonwealth. However, Santiago-Balaguer was pulled off the flight at the last minute after Orlando police received an anonymous Crimeline tip that he was on board with contraband.
Despite having him under scrutiny, federal agents did not know he had made plans to fly to Puerto Rico on a gun-running mission that day.
When Santiago-Balaguer walked off the plane, authorities searched him and found no guns or drugs. Airport officials then checked computerized records that can identify all employees who use their card keys to swipe doors in secure areas.
That's when they realized another Comair worker was likely on the plane and alerted Transportation Security Administration officials. Authorities in San Juan were called and told to search everyone on the flight.
When Munoz noticed the TSA inspection team in San Juan's airport, federal authorities said, he dropped the duffel bag on a table and said, "I'm busted."