A mechanic at Kennedy Airport from Hicksville pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of trying to smuggle into the country almost 26 pounds of cocaine that was hidden in a plane that landed at the facility, according to officials.
Paul Belloisi, 52, an employee of American Airlines, was described by federal authorities as the “inside man” in the smuggling operation. He was charged with conspiracy to import, possess and distribute cocaine, and importation of cocaine.
Belloisi’s attorney, David Besso of Bay Shore, however, says his client was engaged in “fixing” the plane’s air conditioning in the compartment where the system was housed, and where, unknown to him, the cocaine had been hidden.
American Airlines said in a statement, "We take this matter very seriously and continue to cooperate with law enforcement throughout their investigation.”
Belloisi was arrested in February on a complaint, but because the coronavirus had slowed the federal court system, he wasn’t indicted by a grand jury until recently. Belloisi's $300,000 bond was continued Monday. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison.
Following the arraignment, Eastern District U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue said in a statement: “As alleged, this airline mechanic abused his position as a trusted employee and his access to sensitive areas of JFK Airport to participate in the clandestine importation of cocaine ….
"These charges will serve as a warning that federal law enforcement authorities remain vigilant in protecting the security of our borders and fighting the scourge of international narcotics trafficking.”
Customs and Border Patrol agents discovered the cocaine in the form of ten bricks concealed behind an insulation blanket in the external mechanical compartment on the underside of the plane during a routine search in February, officials said.
Investigators replaced the bricks with “sham bricks” and the insulation blanket, which were sprayed with a invisible substance that glows only under certain lights, officials said. Investigators also placed a transponder next to bricks that emits a radio signal if the area was disturbed, court papers said.
Investigators then surveilled the plane, which had arrived from Montego Bay in Jamaica, according to court papers.
Belloisi carried a tool bag to the plane but left it outside when he entered the mechanical compartment where the cocaine had been found, as agents watched, the papers said. A few seconds later, the transponder “tripped,” sending out a signal that the brick area had been disturbed, the papers said.
When Belloisi exited the compartment, agents found his tool bag was empty, and his jacket had cutouts in the lining large enough to conceal the cocaine bricks, the papers said.
Checking Belliosi under the special light, the agents found that his gloves “glowed,“ court papers said.
Besso said in a telephone interview, that his client was checking the plane shortly before it was scheduled to take off because the air conditioning was malfunctioning. He went to the underside compartment where the system is housed, so naturally he would have come in contact with the substance that gave off a glow, Besso said.
Further, Besso said airline mechanics often have slits cut inside their work jackets to hold equipment. Besso added that given the brief time until takeoff, his client wouldn’t have had time to stash all the bricks, if he were taking part in a smuggling scheme.
The defense attorney said his client was suspended without pay after his February arrest.
John Marzulli, a spokesman for Eastern District prosecutors said the investigation was continuing.