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Airline Employee Sentenced to Life for Role in Drug-Smuggling Ring

United States Attorney's Office(NEW YORK) -- A former American Airlines baggage handler was sentenced on Tuesday to life in prison for his role in leading a vast, multi-million dollar drug-smuggling ring known as the "Bourne Organization" and using the airline as his "personal narcotics shuttle service," federal officials said.

The Department of Justice said that Victor Bourne, a Barbadian national, had been convicted of leading a group that smuggled as much as 150 kilograms of cocaine from the Caribbean through New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport over nearly 10 years.

In the far-reaching scheme, federal officials said the Bourne Organization would pay off airline crew chiefs to make sure its own crooked baggage handlers oversaw certain shipments.  On the flights, the drugs were hidden behind panels in the cargo holds, in the ceiling and wing assembly, in the aircraft's avionics and in "other vital equipment compartments," the Department of Justice said.  To get the drugs out of the airport, employees would hide them in their clothing and then deliver the narcotics to Bourne.

Bourne was arrested in 2009 and the investigation into the organization led to the conviction of 19 other airline employees who were in on the scheme, the seizure of nearly 3,000 pounds of marijuana and the forfeiture of $6.9 million.

"Using his insider status, Bourne turned American Airlines into his personal narcotics shuttle service," U.S. attorney Loretta Lynch said in a press release, "running a criminal organization that ignored passenger safety and security in pursuit of their greater goal -- enriching Victor Bourne."

Bourne was brought down at trial by six witnesses, all former American Airline employees, who had pled guilty to their own narcotics trafficking charges.

American Airlines declined to comment for this report.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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