72 pounds of cocaine seized at Metro Airport, three arrested

Authorities seized more than 70 pounds of cocaine and arrested three men suspected of drug smuggling Tuesday after searching a small plane that had stopped in Baton Rouge to refuel on its way to Atlanta.

“It’s a significant seizure,” said Capt. Doug Cain, a State Police spokesman. He estimated the shipment to be worth about $1 million on the street.

Three Colorado men who had been passengers on the plane were being held in Parish Prison in lieu of $1 million bond each.

Authorities said the suspects, who were booked on counts of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, were not cooperating with investigators.

Given the size of the bust, federal authorities were considering whether to prosecute the men in U.S. District Court, as opposed to state court, though no formal charges had been filed Wednesday.

State and local authorities were alerted to the plane by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who were tracking the suspicious aircraft.

The plane, a Beechcraft 58P twin engine, had taken off at 1:20 p.m. from Weslaco, Texas, a few miles from the Mexican border.

The aircraft landed at Metro Airport about 3:40 p.m. and was met by ICE agents, according to court records.

The plane’s owner, Vincenzo Salzano, a businessman from Aurora, Colo., allowed investigators to search the plane.

They found about 71.8 pounds of cocaine on board, according to court records. Law enforcement officials said they believe the drugs originated south of the border.

Taken into custody were Salzano; his son, Armando Salzano, of Littleton, Colo.; and Mohammad Iman Nekouie, also of Aurora. Nekouie, who is the elder Salzano’s son-in-law, hired a pilot to fly them round trip from Atlanta to Weslaco.

The plane had taken off early Tuesday morning from Atlanta for the first leg of the trip, stopping in New Orleans before continuing to south Texas.

Investigators said they were exploring whether the shipment was tied to a larger distribution network.

The pilot was not booked because he was apparently unaware the drugs were on board, Cain said.

“He did not know what the cargo was,” he said.

Several law enforcement agencies, including Baton Rouge police, participated in the bust.

“This is yet another great example of what law enforcement can accomplish when we unite for a common purpose,” said Col. Mike Edmonson, the State Police superintendent.