U.S. Homeland Security agents shipped five kilos of sham cocaine through the Cayman Islands in a sting to catch a New Jersey baggage handler connected to an international drug smuggling operation.
Tyrone Woolaston, 35, was convicted of a multi-year scheme to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. through Newark International Airport after a trial last month.
Investigators used criminal informants in an undercover operation to arrange a deal to ship drugs from Cayman into the U.S. on a United Airlines flight from Owen Roberts International Airport on Feb. 10, 2018, court records show.
Mr. Woolaston used his position as a baggage handler to ensure the suitcase got through airport security in Newark. He was arrested when he tried to deliver the drugs to the buyer at a hotel the following day.
The undercover operation followed a three-year Homeland Security investigation into a drug trafficking organization suspected of organizing the smuggling of luggage containing cocaine shipments from the Caribbean, including the Cayman Islands, through the airport.
A partial trial transcript, viewed by the Cayman Compass, shows Mr. Woolaston and his partner, Xavier Williams, communicated on multiple occasions with an undercover informant, posing as a Colombian drug dealer named Jerry.
After discussing multiple potential locations, including Antigua and the Dominican Republic, they agreed to ship the drugs from Cayman. Mr. Woolaston charged a fee of $9,000 per kilo, or $45,000 in total, to ensure the drugs got past security at the airport.
Summing up the evidence for the jury, Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe said the defendant had been recorded making the deal and was later caught with the drugs in his hands. “There is no dispute that [the] defendant was caught red-handed attempting to deliver a yellow bag containing what he thought were kilos of cocaine. Duct-taped bundles of sham cocaine were literally in his hands when the agents went to arrest him.
“There’s no dispute he had those. And you know there’s just no question that the defendant agreed to smuggle cocaine from a flight from the Cayman Islands, because the items that were in that suitcase were literally in his hands when the agents approached him.”
Ms. Moe said investigators believed it was not the first time Mr. Woolaston had helped smuggle drugs through the airport, saying he was “ready, willing and more than capable” of doing so. The court heard that he was suspected of assisting drug importers to get shipments through Newark on numerous other occasions.
It is not clear why the agents chose Cayman as the point of origin for the shipment or what level of involvement there was from local law enforcement.
A Royal Cayman Islands Police Service spokeswoman said, “The RCIPS and Customs and Border Control [have] mutual cooperation agreements with other law enforcement to combat international drug trafficking. The success of these operations in disrupting international drug smuggling is a mutual benefit to the safety and security of the jurisdictions of all participating law enforcement agencies.”
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement, “As proven at trial, Tyrone Woolaston abused his position as an airline employee with secure access to restricted areas of Newark International Airport. In reality, Woolaston was also a drug dealer, who smuggled large cocaine shipments through the airport and into the United States.”