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Pair caught smuggling cocaine in JFK: DA, Feds

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A pair were arrested in two separate incidents over the last week for trying to smuggle cocaine through John F. Kennedy International Airport, the authorities said.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers caught Jean Vargas, 23, of Paterson, N.J., with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of the contraband in his luggage as he was returning home from a trip to the Dominican Republic Monday, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said.

He allegedly hid the 6 pounds of coke inside a Nintendo Wii dance mat and carrying case, according to Robert E. Perez, director of field operations of the New York Field Office of U.S. Customs.

“CBP officers around the country are dedicated to their mission of protecting the homeland,” he said in a statement. “These highly skilled officers are trained to intercept the most cunning attempts at smuggling.”

The drugs were worth $280,000 on the street and the investigation was ongoing. Vargas has been held without bail and was charged by the U.S. attorney with drug possession and trafficking, according to a representative for the agency.

Vargas was not the only suspect to be caught with a package of cocaine that went through the airport recently.

Felix Soto, 49, of East 211th Street, was charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance and conspiracy last Thursday, according to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. Soto allegedly sold half of a million dollars in dope that was sent to Kennedy over the summer, according to Brown.

“The defendant is accused of delivering more than just the mail while carrying out his duties as a U.S. mail carrier,” Brown said in a statement. “It is alleged that he used his position as a postal employee to put dangerous drugs out on the street.”

Soto was under investigation by a joint narcotics sting led by the Queens DA’s narcotics investigation bureau, the city Police Department and the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General.

During the course of the investigation, it was learned that a drug package was sent through the mail and received at JFK before it was sent to a post office in the Bronx during the summer, Brown said.

Soto, who worked as a postal carrier at the office, allegedly took possession of the package at the post office, according to the DA.

On July 14, he was seen in uniform in a U.S. Postal Service truck at the intersection of Croes and Westchester avenues in the Bronx around noon and handed the package to an individual, the DA said. The package allegedly contained two 1-kilogram packages of cocaine, each of which was worth $250,000 in street value, according to Brown.

“He broke the law and betrayed the trust of the Postal Service and the public, as well. My office has zero tolerance for such corruption,” he said.

He was held on bail at $250,000, according to the Queens DA’s office. If convicted on his charges, the mailman faces up to 20 years in prison, according to Brown.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 6:27 pm, October 10, 2011
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