Suspicious flight plan triggered search
The owner of the private plane intercepted by federal agents at Metro Airport this week sought to shoulder the blame for the large cache of cocaine investigators found on board, authorities said in court filings Thursday.
“It’s all mine,” Vincenzo “Vincent” Salzano, a Colorado businessman, told agents searching the aircraft, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Baton Rouge.
But authorities are evidently not buying Salzano’s claim he was the only passenger who knew of the 71.8 pounds of cocaine secreted in two gym bags aboard the Beechcraft 58P twin engine plane.
Salzano, his son, Armando Salzano, and son-in-law, Mohammad I. Nekouie, face federal counts of conspiring to possess and distribute cocaine and remained jailed in lieu of $1 million bond each.
The 23-year-old pilot, who was not arrested, told authorities he had been suspicious of his passengers but claimed he was unaware he was transporting narcotics.
Federal court filings offered new details of Tuesday’s seizure, a bust State Police say prevented $1 million worth of cocaine from being delivered to Atlanta. It was the plane’s suspicious flight plan that alerted federal agents and prompted the search of the plane when it stopped in Baton Rouge, the documents show.
The plane had flown early Tuesday from Atlanta to Weslaco, Texas, near the border with Mexico, and remained in south Texas for just three hours before turning around and stopping in Baton Rouge to refuel.
Agents with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrived at Metro Airport as the plane was pulling into the Executive Aviation area.
The four men who stepped off the plane were asked to produce identification and the flight plan.
Agents explained to the elder Salzano their concerns about drugs being smuggled across the Mexican border.
He allowed the agents to search the plane and their initial sweep turned up empty. At some point, both Salzanos went to use the restroom.
Meanwhile, agents walked around the plane and, peering through a window, noticed a black gym bag in the aisle of the passenger area. The bag contained several “kilo-size bundles” wrapped in tape that tested positive for cocaine.
A Baton Rouge Police Department K-9 dog later sniffed out a second gym bag packed with cocaine behind a seat in the rear of the plane.
Upon returning from the bathroom, Vincent Salzano told the agents that “no one else on the plane knew anything about it,” according to the criminal complaint, signed by special agent Richard Estopinal of Homeland Security Investigations. All four of the men were escorted to the Transportation Security Administration office at the airport for questioning.
The elder Salzano, who has a previous conviction for distribution of cocaine, told investigators he had picked up the drugs “at the rear of a gas station near McAllen, Texas,” the complaint says.
He said his 32-year-old son was with him but had remained at the front of the gas station.
“Armando Salzano claimed that he did not know what was in Vincent Salzano’s bags,” Estopinal wrote in the complaint.
The pilot, Scott Gentry, told agents he had flown for the elder Salzano on four or five occasions, earning $200 a day.
“According to Gentry, the destination of the trips was always McAllen, Texas,” the complaint says.
“Gentry admitted that he was suspicious of Vincent and Armando Salzano,” the complaint says, “but according to Gentry, Vincent Salzano told him the purpose of the trips was to buy and sell cars.”
No court dates have yet been set for the three men.