(CNN) A longtime American Airlines mechanic is accused of using his access to secure areas of an airport to smuggle cocaine into the US in an airplane compartment, according to a criminal complaint filed in February. His attorney says authorities have the wrong guy.
The mechanic, Paul Belloisi, 52, was indicted last month due in part to court delays stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. The charges include conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, conspiracy to import cocaine and importation of cocaine.
The mechanic from Hicksville, New York, was arraigned Monday and pleaded not guilty. His attorney, David Besso, said Belloisi is a 30-year employee of American Airlines with a "spotless" record and no criminal history.
"He was going about his official duties as an airline mechanic," Besso said. "Somehow the government had planted scam cocaine in the plane, which he said wasn't supposed to be there and went over and touched it and they arrested him."
Prosecutors say a flight landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York from Jamaica on February 4, and Customs and Border Patrol officers discovered 10 bricks of cocaine hidden behind a blanket in a compartment underneath the plane's cockpit.
According to a criminal complaint, the officers removed the bricks of cocaine and replaced them with fake bricks. They also put an electronic device in the compartment that would send a radio signal if the area around the fake bricks was disturbed and sprayed the blanket and bricks with a substance that, if touched, would illuminate under a certain type of light.
As the plane was being boarded for its next flight, authorities saw Belloisi enter the compartment, and the electronic device sent a signal to the officers, according to the complaint.
The complaint also said gloves Belloisi was wearing glowed when a certain type of light was shined on them. He was found with an empty tool bag and holes cut into the inside of his jacket, something narcotics smugglers commonly do to carry concealed contraband, according to the complaint.
Belloisi was later arrested and released on bond.
Authorities with the Department of Homeland Security called Belloisi an "inside man" who moved more than 25 pounds of cocaine from Jamaica to New York.
"As alleged, this airline mechanic abused his position as a trusted employee and his access to sensitive areas of JFK Airport to participate in the clandestine importation of cocaine," said United States Attorney Richard Donoghue in a statement.
A spokesperson for American Airlines said Belloisi is withheld from service pending the outcome of the investigation. They added in a statement to CNN that all team members undergo criminal background checks, and that the company is cooperating fully in the investigation.
"At American we have an unwavering commitment to the safety and security of our customers and team members," the spokesperson said. "We take this matter very seriously and continue to cooperate with law enforcement throughout their investigation."