Cocaine found in canned fruit at Atlanta airport; feds bust major drug operation

Channel 2's Alyssa Hyman reports.

From peaches to blueberries, Georgia knows its fruit. Apparently, so do authorities.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents proved that when they found cans of pineapple that seemed to weigh too much at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport last year, Channel 2 Action News reported. Instead of finding preserved produce, CBP agents said they found about 4 kilograms of cocaine.

That discovery led to eight people being indicted last month in connection with a cocaine smuggling pipeline, U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak said in a news release. It began in Costa Rica, sending drugs through the Atlanta airport to end up in metro Atlanta, Boston and Charlotte.

“In this case, it’s not that we were lucky,” CBP agent Carey Davis told the news station. “It’s that we had good officers who did a good job.”

The cocaine, which was found hidden inside cans of fruit, was seized last June from a passenger’s luggage. Davis said the drugs were professionally canned, making them hard to distinguish from legitimate canned produce.

“People bring food in all the time. It’s hard to tell,” he told Channel 2. “These things were professionally sealed in a professional cannery. It’s hard to find these things sometimes.”

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security found that the alleged smugglers had made at least 90 trips between Atlanta and Costa Rica since 2015, Pak said in the news release. The operation is believed to have smuggled more than 375 kilograms (about 827 pounds).

“By taking out this organization, it has a long-lasting impact of removing those who profit off addition,” Pak said.

The following is the list of people charged in connection with the scheme and indicted March 27:

• Anthony Rondel Blair, 40, Atlanta;

• Shondra “Frenchie” Vernon, 30, Atlanta;

• Michaelle Rosa, 36, Jonesboro;

• Jason Arias, 35, Charlotte;

• Daniel “Russia” Newton, 29, Charlotte;

• David Lomba Barros, 32, Boston;

• Madison Renee Kelleher, 27, Boston;

• Angelica Dominique Cuyugan Tuzon, 25, Reston, Va.

Pak said the investigation is ongoing, and more arrests are possible.

Canned fruit is one of many vessels agents have found drugs inside at the Atlanta airport recently. In February, $40,000 worth of cocaine was seized from inside Honduran decorative figurines, AJC.com previously reported.

RELATED: Cocaine hidden inside Honduran figurines seized at Atlanta airport

The same month, a kilogram of heroin was found inside a factory-sealed coffee bag within a Guatemalan man’s luggage at the airport.

AJC.com has reached out to the CBP for any updates on those two investigations.

MORE: Guatemalan blend: Heroin found hidden inside coffee bag at Atlanta airport

Going beyond canned fruit, the Savannah seaport has had multiple cocaine busts within fresh fruit shipments in the past few years. In November 2018, $19 million worth of cocaine was seized, and $6 million of drugs was found in 2016.

The CBP has previously said it seizes more than 5,000 pounds of drugs on a typical day from ports of entry throughout the U.S.

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