Earlier today, former American Airlines baggage handler Victor Bourne, a Barbadian national, was sentenced to life in prison for his leadership of an international drug trafficking organization (the “Bourne Organization”) that smuggled cocaine from the Carribean into the United States through John F. Kennedy International Airport. The sentencing proceeding was held before United States District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn. Bourne was convicted of narcotics trafficking offenses and money laundering following a month-long trial in October 2011.

The sentence was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and James T. Hayes, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), New York. In total, the investigation that culminated in Bourne’s conviction and sentence has resulted in 20 convictions, including the conviction of 19 airline employees, the seizure of 13 kilograms of cocaine and 2,900 pounds of marijuana, and the forfeiture of $6.9 million.

The evidence at trial proved that, between 2000 and 2009, the Bourne Organization utilized corrupt employees of commercial airlines, including American Airlines, working at domestic and international ports of entry to smuggle illegal narcotics into the United States and throughout the Caribbean. Bourne paid dispatching crew chiefs at American Airlines to assign crews of baggage handlers, who, in turn, were paid tens of thousands of dollars by the Bourne Organization to retrieve the cocaine from the flights upon arrival. The cocaine smuggled aboard American Airlines flights into JFK Airport was hidden behind panels in the front and rear cargo holds, the ceiling and wing assembly, and in the aircraft’s avionics and other vital equipment compartments. After removing the cocaine from these locations, the corrupt baggage handlers hid the drugs inside their coats and airline equipment bags to avoid detection by law enforcement and safely transport the drugs to Bourne. The government proved at trial that, in this manner, the Bourne Organization was responsible for the importation into the United States of over 150 kilograms of cocaine. At the time of his arrest in 2009, Bourne was preparing to transport even larger quantities of cocaine in cargo containers from the Carribean to the United States.

The evidence presented by the government at trial included testimony from six former American Airlines employees who pled guilty to narcotics trafficking charges resulting from their participation in the Bourne Organization. Each witness described Bourne’s control of the drug smuggling operation, including the recruitment and payment of his workers, the secret locations on the aircraft where the cocaine was hidden, and the growth of the Organization over time. One of the employees recounted a conversation in which Bourne stated, in substance, that he “started with half a kilo, then got 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 30, 50.”

Another government witness, an American Airlines employee at JFK Airport who was not involved in drug trafficking, testified that Bourne accused him of stealing two kilograms of cocaine. This witness testified that Bourne threatened to “kill me, my family, my kids” if the drugs were not returned. Shortly thereafter, Bourne confronted the same employee at the airport and pushed him off of a truck, causing a neck injury.

The evidence at trial also established that Bourne was responsible for the shipment of over 5,000 pounds of marijuana aboard cargo vessels, in part through a Brooklyn footwear company, to businesses in Barbados.

Bourne reaped millions of dollars in illegal cash proceeds from his illegal drug trafficking, and laundered his drug proceeds through businesses and real estate ventures in Brooklyn and Barbados.

In addition to a lifetime term of imprisonment, Judge Garaufis imposed a $5.1 million forfeiture judgment on Bourne.

“Using his insider status, Bourne turned American Airlines into his personal narcotics shuttle service, running a criminal organization that ignored passenger safety and security in the pursuit of their greater goal - enriching Victor Bourne,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. “Bourne not only abused the trust of American Airlines to satisfy his own financial greed, but by compromising security at JFK Airport he placed all travelers at risk. In this post-9/11 era, we will continue to aggressively investigate and prosecute those at our ports of entry who violate our nation’s drug trafficking laws and threaten the integrity of our borders.” Ms. Lynch extended her grateful appreciation to Internal Revenue Service, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the United States Postal Inspection Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Drug Enforcement Administration for their assistance.

“Victor Bourne and his crew of corrupt former American Airline employees mistakenly viewed drug smuggling as a path to riches. The sentencing today serves as a stern warning about the consequences awaiting drug smugglers,” said HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Hayes. “HSI will continue to use its resources and the expertise of its law enforcement partners to flush out criminals who attempt to exploit our borders.”

The government’s case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Patricia E. Notopoulos, Toni M. Mele, Soumya Dayananda, and Tanya Y. Hill.

The Defendant:

Age: 37