ATLANTA — A husband and wife ran an “international heroin and cocaine trafficking conspiracy” for almost a year through Atlanta’s airport, according to federal prosecutors.
Byung J. “BJay” Pak, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, announced guilty pleas in the case earlier this week from Paola Valenzuela Arevalo and Herbert Jonathan Castillo Juarez, the Guatemalan couple who ran the operation.
According to the U.S Attorney’s office, the pair on at least one occasion used a juvenile girl as a drug mule aboard a Delta flight, and on multiple occasions directed their traffickers to swallow substantial amounts of heroin.
The operation ran from Oct. 2015-Aug. 2016, authorities said.
“Atlanta’s status as a major transportation hub and the location of the world’s busiest airport makes our city a target for criminal organizations seeking to import heroin and other dangerous drugs,” Pak said in a statement. “Disrupting drug trafficking organizations and seizing their narcotics as well as getting their members off the streets is one of our highest priorities.”
According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the operation would route drug mules on flights through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on their way either to northern U.S. cities like New York and Philadelphia or to European countries like Switzerland and Norway.
“They recruited, managed, and oversaw numerous couriers who trafficked these drugs from Guatemala, including exploiting minors under the age of 18 as drug couriers,” a release said.
The U.S. Attorney’s office cited four instances, including one where a girl under the age of 18 was arrested with almost four and a half pounds of heroin.
The couple was first arrested in 2016 and served a prison sentence in Switzerland. After being extradited to the U.S., they pleaded guilty to eight drug trafficking charges.
They’ll be sentenced next January.