15-year sentence for drug smuggler caught in Cayman sting operation

US Homeland Security investigators set up a sting involving the shipment of 5 kilos of sham cocaine from Cayman's Owen Roberts International Airport.

A New Jersey airport baggage handler has been jailed for 15 years after being caught in a sting operation involving a plot to ship five kilograms of cocaine from the Cayman Islands to the US.

Tyrone Woolaston was convicted of a multi-year scheme to smuggle the drugs through Newark Liberty International Airport after a trial last year. His sentence was handed down last week.

Court documents show that investigators used criminal informants in an undercover operation to arrange a deal to ship ‘sham cocaine’ from Cayman into the US on a flight from Owen Roberts International Airport on 10 Feb. 2018.

Woolaston, who was lead baggage handler with a commercial airline at Newark, was caught as he tried to deliver the contraband.

Acting US Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a media release,  “Tyrone Woolaston used his position as a baggage handler at Newark Liberty Airport to smuggle cocaine into the United States.

“When law enforcement conducted an undercover operation to investigate, Woolaston, carrying a semi-automatic pistol, delivered five kilos of what he believed to be cocaine. Now Woolaston has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for his crimes.”

According to court documents, the undercover operation followed a three-year Homeland Security investigation into a drug-trafficking organisation suspected of arranging the smuggling of luggage containing cocaine shipments from the Caribbean through the New Jersey airport.

“Woolaston abused his secure access to the restricted areas of the airport to remove suitcases containing shipments of multiple kilograms of cocaine from international flights and smuggle them through the airport for distribution in the New York City area,” stated the US Department of Justice media release.

In 2017 and 2018, undercover agents launched an investigation. A confidential source met with Woolaston to arrange a cocaine shipment, and he agreed to bring a suitcase containing five kilograms of cocaine through the airport.

“HSI agents placed a suitcase containing approximately five kilograms of sham cocaine on an international flight from the Cayman Islands to the airport,” according to the documents.

“Woolaston was working on the airport ramp when the flight arrived at the airport, and took possession of the suitcase and carried the sham cocaine shipment through the airport, evading customs screening. The following day, Woolaston carried a .40 caliber Glock pistol, equipped with a laser sight, to deliver the sham cocaine to the confidential source.”

A partial trial transcript, viewed by the Cayman Compass, shows Woolaston and his partner communicating 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. Woolaston charged a fee of $9,000 per kilo, or $45,000 in total, to ensure the drugs got past security at the airport. 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.

After the trial in 2019, a  Royal Cayman Islands Police Service spokeswoman told the Compass, “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.”

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