Airline pilots, ramp workers arrested on immigration-related charges


Sunday, February 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


MIAMI (AP) _ Seven airline pilots and two airport ramp workers were charged with immigration-related offenses, prosecutors said Saturday.

Four pilots and two ramp workers were charged with possession of fake immigration documents, U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis said in a news release. One of the four fliers, and an additional pilot, also have been charged with making false statements to obtain a Social Security card, Lewis said.

One other pilot was detained in Dallas and another in Miami on unspecified immigration charges, Lewis said.

The charges were not connected to the Sept. 11 attacks, Lewis said. Authorities said all the suspects were from Venezuela.

Those arrested on the false document charges had counterfeit stamps in their passports that gave them clearance to work in the United States, Lewis said. The fraudulent stamps can cost up to $25,000, Lewis said.

All of those charged had entered the United States legally, he added.

Lewis said authorities were searching for people suspected of providing the counterfeit stamps.

``It is clear that there was an organized conspiracy here and that there are a number of other pilots out there that we are going to be looking at,'' he said.

Marty Heires, a spokesman for American Eagle Airlines, said Saturday that two American Eagle pilots were among pilots arrested by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

``We fully cooperated in the investigations,'' said Heires.

Lewis said one of the pilots was arrested in Miami on charges of possession of fake immigration documents and making false statements to obtain a Social Security card.

Lewis said the other American Eagle pilot was arrested on immigration-related charges at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, but he did not disclose what they were.

Two Express.net Airlines pilots were arrested for the fake stamps, and a pilot with Executive Jet Aviation in Fort Lauderdale was detained on unspecified immigration charges. The names of the two other pilots' employers weren't released. One of the two was charged with having a fake stamp, and the other was charged with lying to get a Social Security card.

Officials from Executive Jet, an airline for corporate travelers, did not immediately return a call for comment. There was no phone number listed on the Web site for Express.net Airlines, a cargo carrier, and company representatives did not immediately respond to e-mail requests for comment.

Possession of fake immigration documents warrants a maximum prison term of 10 years, prosecutors said. Falsifying a Social Security card application carries a maximum five-year sentence. The suspects also face deportation if they are convicted.