BROOKLYN (CN) - JetBlue agents with criminal pasts used their "buddy pass" privileges to help a pair of accused drug mules to move about the country with less scrutiny, the federal government says in court.
The United States filed a forfeiture claim Monday in federal court to seize $78,000 in cash found on Kevin Belnavis and Penny Barbosa at John F. Kennedy Airport as they tried to board a flight to Los Angeles last August.
The pair was found with 11 wads of the cash during a "consensual search" of their luggage, the feds say.
The pair got their tickets to travel through "buddy passes," which allow them to travel for free and undetected courtesy of airline workers who had criminal histories of their own, according to the complaint.
One unidentified airline worker told authorities that he or she provided the passes after another unidentified employee stated that he or she was out of such passes.
The first employee had a storied history with drug-running, feds say. First, in 2000,that person pled guilty in Brooklyn to criminal possession of drugs with the intent to sell. A second arrest occurred in 2013 for selling marijuana in California.
That person also was arrested in Los Angeles for possessing 4 kilograms of cocaine; they seized about $350,000 cash in that bust, authorities say.
The second JetBlue worker was arrested in California for alleged marijuana possession with the intent to sell.
When the jig was up at the terminal, feds say Belnavis claimed to be a rapper and that the money was from his shows and savings. But, they say, he did not have a business card to buoy his story and refused to offer his social security number.
A subsequent background check revealed that he had a criminal history dating back to 2002 for an arrest in Elmira, NY, for drug possession with the intent to sell. He pleaded guilty to the charges in 2003.
Most of the money found on the pair was in 20-dollar bills, making it "consistent with the transportations of narcotics proceeds," the complaint states.
A trained narcotics dog ultimately sniffed them out, the feds say.
The plan to bring drugs from New York to California is unusual, the government added, since drugs usually go from California to the Big Apple, not the other way.
Feds want a warrant for their arrest in its 8-page forfeiture complaint filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Karin Orenstein in Brooklyn Federal Court.
A representative with JetBlue did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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