St. Croix Man Pleads Guilty to Trying to Smuggle Cocaine on Miami Flight

Luis Ortiz, Jr., 25, of St. Croix pleaded guilty on March 1, to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine, according to a release from the office of the U.S. attorney for the Virgin Islands. Ortiz reportedly remains on supervised release pending sentencing.

According to court documents, on June 20, 2019, Ortiz and a co-defendant recruited two individuals to smuggle five bricks of cocaine from St. Croix to Miami, Fla., on American Airlines flight no. 2227 on July 11, 2019. On the evening of July 10, 2019, surveillance footage from St. Croix’s Henry E. Rohlsen Airport captured Ortiz, who was employed as a contractor to clean the aircrafts, boarding the American Airlines aircraft wearing an oversized jacket. While onboard, Ortiz reportedly walked directly to rows 17 and 18 and closed the windows of both rows. Eight minutes later, Ortiz exited the aircraft carrying packages that were consistent in size with the life vests that were removed from rows 17 and 18.

Later that morning, Ortiz’s co-defendant allegedly arranged with an American Airlines gate agent to pre-board two persons who were later identified as the smugglers. Once onboard, Ortiz’s codefendant instructed one of the two smugglers to retrieve cocaine from the life vest compartments located under seats 17A and 17B.

The flight took off around 8 a.m and upon its arrival in Miami around 11:00 a.m., the two were arrested by Customs and Border Protection officers. Both pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute cocaine and were sentenced in the Southern District of Florida District Court.

At sentencing, Ortiz faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years of incarceration and a maximum fine of $10 million. Ortiz also faces a term of five years of supervised release and a special assessment of $100.