Federal authorities and the New York City Police Department said on Monday they broke up a smuggling ring that used Aeroflot airlines employees based in the United States to smuggle $50 million worth of electronic goods into Russia.
The case exposed weaknesses in checking the movement of illegal goods across borders, officials said.
Officials discussing the joint operation by federal authorities and the New York City police said many of the goods -- including Apple iPhones, iPads and Apple Watches -- had been stolen in the United States.
Aeroflot crew members and Aeroflot passengers, as well as ring members, were involved in smuggling, officials said.
Ten people, including one based in Moscow and nine currently living in Brooklyn, were charged with transportation of stolen property, failure to file export information, illegal exportation of electronic devices, and conspiracy.
Several of the defendants were U.S.-based wholesalers of electronic goods who "have supplied many of the products, knowing that they were helping the smuggling efforts in violation of exporting laws," according to court papers.
On wiretaps, defendants discussed having made between tens of thousands of dollars to as much as $7.8 million in profit in a single day of smuggling, officials said.
None of the 10 charged were Aeroflot employees, sources said.
The U.S. State Department, however, revoked the visas of approximately 113 present and former Aeroflot employees for taking part in the scheme, officials said. Most of the defendants were expected to be arraigned Monday afternoon in the federal court in Brooklyn.
"The defendants were members of an international smuggling ring that used a network of operators here and in Russia to circumvent U.S. export laws and regulations," said acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District Seth DuCharme in a statement. "With today’s arrests, the network has been broken thanks to the outstanding work of … prosecutors who worked tirelessly alongside our agency partners to closely scrutinize the goods and individuals that transit our international borders."
New York City Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said: "As alleged, these defendants used commercial air travel in furtherance of their illegal smuggling scheme, a staggeringly dangerous circumstance that his investigation uncovered and grounded."
The head of the New York FBI office, William Sweeney, said the smuggling ring’s activities revealed that when it comes transporting illegal goods across U.S. borders "vulnerabilities exist."
One of the defendants, Anton Perevoznikov, 34, is currently on supervised release, awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to conspiracy to export to the Russian military "advanced thermal vision devices designed to be mounted on military weapons" in violation of the Arms Export Control Act, officials said.
The alleged ringleader, Sayuz Daibagya, 46, a resident of Moscow, took part in the actual smuggling himself, officials said.