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Real Life Jackie Brown: Another Flight Attendant Has Been Indicted On Charges of Smuggling For a Drugs Cartel

Real Life Jackie Brown: Another Flight Attendant Has Been Indicted On Charges of Smuggling For a Drugs Cartel

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In a case reminiscent of the iconic Quentin Tarantino film Jackie Brown, yet another flight attendant has been indicted on charges of smuggling hundreds of thousands of dollars out of the United States at the behest of a Mexican drugs cartel.

In the latest case, Glenis Zapata, 34, has been accused of using her status as a flight attendant to help transport drug proceeds on commercial flights from the Midwest to the southern United States and Mexico,

Prosecutors allege that Zapata took advantage of her ‘Known crewmember’ status, which allowed her to bypass normal TSA security checks in order to smuggle at least $310,000 out of the United States.

The Known Crewmember Program (KCM) affords US pilots and flight attendants special security privileges, allowing them to pass through TSA airport security checkpoints without normally needing to place their luggage through the x-ray machine.

The program is, of course, open to abuse and in this case, Zapata is alleged to have played a small part in a much larger smuggling conspiracy which also used semi-trailer trucks and even a private charter airplane to smuggle thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States and launder tens of millions of dollars in proceeds.

Earlier this month, four other flight attendants were charged with smuggling as much as $8 million in drug money from the United States to the Dominican Republic over a seven-year period following a major investigation by Homeland Security Investigations.

In that case, the flight attendants also used their KCM status to smuggle tens of thousands of dollars in drug proceeds at a time in their hand luggage through TSA checkpoints without being stopped.

Sarah Valerio Puljols, 42, Emmanuel Torres, 34, and Jarol Fabio, 35, have been indicted over allegations they managed to smuggle approximately $1.5 million out of the US over an 8-year period, while Charlie Hernandez, 42, is believed to have smuggled as much as $2.5 million out of the US.

Both Fabio and Torres started working for an unnamed international airline in 2015 and almost immediately started to smuggle narcotics money on behalf of the drug gang. Hernandez and Pujols were more veteran flight attendants, but they also started to traffic narcotics money for the gang in 2014 and 2015.

Fabio and Torres were caught after law enforcement managed to catch their handler, who helped law enforcement set up a sting operation. Pujols was caught when Customs and Border Protection carried out a random inspection of her bag at New York JFK in December 2019.

Matt’s take

This latest case will once again cast the spotlight on the KCM program and how open it is to abuse. The TSA took full control of KCM in 2023 and has stepped up the number of random enhanced screenings that pilots and flight attendants face in an effort to stamp out rampant abuse.

In 2022, an off-duty flight attendant was caught out by one of these random enhanced screenings at San Diego airport when she was ordered to pass through the metal detector arch.

Terese Lee White set off the metal detector, and a pat-down search revealed that she had a package containing 3.33 pounds of fentanyl strapped to her abdomen.

In her plea agreement, White said that she had deliberately abused the KCM program in order to try and avoid detection.

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