A Brazilian-French businessman who lives in France was arrested at Miami International Airport after customs officers found 1.2 kilos of cocaine concealed in his checked baggage.
Benvindo Mendes da Silva, 55, was arrested at MIA on March 11 after his flight from Lima, Peru, landed at MIA.
Transporting drugs in personal luggage is just one of many smuggling modes U.S. officials have identified at international airports. They have also stopped passengers who have swallowed plastic bags containing drugs or who have concealed narcotics on their bodies or clothing. Authorities have also seized drug shipments within aircraft. In September 2013, for example, French authorities discovered 1.1 tons of cocaine aboard an Air France plane that had arrived from Caracas at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.
At MIA, Mendes was listed as an in-transit passenger scheduled to board a flight for Paris, but like all travelers first arriving at a U.S. airport from abroad, he was required to go through immigration and customs before boarding another international flight.
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Officials from Customs and Border Protection targeted Mendes because a random check of his baggage indicated the presence of drugs, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.
The case began when Mendes arrived at MIA last month aboard an American Airlines flight from Lima on the way to Paris, the complaint says.
A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) team checking baggage being unloaded from the flight discovered an intriguing item inside one of Mendes’s checked bags.
“Officers discovered an object within the defendant’s luggage that appeared to be a bag with another pouch inside,” according to a criminal complaint filed in Miami Federal Court by a Homeland Security Investigations special agent.
A dog trained to locate narcotics was brought to smell the bag. The dog “alerted to the bag,” the complaint says.
CBP officers then released the luggage to the regular baggage claim area, but kept it under surveillance.
When Mendes retrieved his luggage, he was stopped by CBP officers. They questioned him and searched his luggage.
At one point, the officers found what appeared to be a pouch with a plastic cap on top and some kind of liquid inside. The complaint says Mendes described the liquid to officers as a liquor that he had bought in Peru.
But when officers tested the liquid, they found traces of cocaine. At that point, the complaint indicates, Mendes changed his story. .
He said the pouch with the liquid came from a box of liquor that a man named Pierre had given him in Peru two days earlier, according to the criminal complaint. It also quoted Mendes as saying he had no idea it contained cocaine.
Officers then cut open the first pouch and found another pouch containing a “white powdery substance” that turned out to be cocaine, the complaint says.
Nine days after his arrest, Mendes was denied bond as a flight risk and within days he was indicted and arraigned. Court papers do not show whether he pleaded not guilty, but he was listed as awaiting trial in May.
His attorney did not return a call to his office. Federal officials declined comment.