Broward News

$6.5 Million Worth of Cocaine Found Stuffed Inside Plane at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport

On November 14, 2014, three men flew a 1976 Gulfstream II jet from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport to Venezuela, making stops in the Cayman Islands and Trinidad and Tobago. The jet returned to Fort Lauderdale nine days later, stuffed with more than 485 pounds of cocaine — a load worth $6.5 million.

Two of the three men — Christian Arroba, 34, and Marco Gaona, 30 — left the jet in the hangar and returned the next day to unload their cargo. But the FBI was waiting for them. 

The third man, Manuel Weisson, 49, was arrested sometime later.

According to federal prosecutors, the plane was initially able to avoid detection after the suspects gutted the interior of the jet, removing panels, seats, and floorboards and then cramming the empty spaces with cocaine. The Sun Sentinel reports that the three men are members of an Ecuadorian drug cartel who flew the cocaine from Venezuela in November. 

Authorities say that the men ran a dry run a month prior, flying the empty Gulfstream jet from South America into Las Vegas, to test how stringent authorities might be. However, unbeknown to them, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration had been investigating the drug syndicate based off a tip. Authorities had their eye on the drug ring and the men for almost a year. 

When the men first left from Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, undercover agents placed hidden cameras inside the jet's hangar, which is how they were able to bust all three.

In April, all three men pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to import cocaine.

On Monday, authorities say Arroba and Gaona were each sentenced to five years and ten months in federal prison. Weisson was sentenced to six years and eight months.

Arroba and Gaona, who are Ecuadorian natives, will be deported after they serve their sentences. Weisson, who is also Ecuadorian, is a naturalized U.S. citizen and could be sent back to Ecuador.

Gaona and Arroba also pleaded guilty to a second charge of possession with intent to supply.
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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph