38-year-old Shawn Ray Nguyen and 32-year-old Burlie Sholar were arrested Thursday here in Houston after an informant dropped-off 15 kilograms of cocaine and $15,000 at Nguyen's house. The two men had been under investigation since last year and allegedly planned to smuggle the drugs through airport security using their air marshal status and onto a flight bound for Las Vegas. US Attorney Don DeGabrielle says the investigation started as a tip.
"An individual who came forward to law enforcement officials said that he was possessed of information that led him to believe that at least Mr. Nguyen at first was willing to use his badge to help get things beyond the checkpoints at airports."
Authorities allege Nguyen smuggled $25,000 in drug proceeds and fraudulent government documents aboard another flight last December. He then allegedly told the informant he could smuggle larger quantities of drugs and could bring in others to assist with the operation. DeGabrielle says he doesn't think the alleged corruption is widespread.
"Our information doesn't lead us to believe that this is anything other than an aberration, a rare circumstance, but also proof that the system works so that even those that are part of the system are capable of being apprehended when they take the law into their own hands."
Both Nguyen and Sholar have worked as Federal Air Marshals since 2002 and have previous law enforcement experience. Special Agent in Charge of the Houston FBI office Rod Beverly says this type of alleged corruption undermines the public's trust in law enforcement agents.
"We absolutely have to the community's support and active participation to make this work. That's why it's important that we be vigilant and whenever we see signs that there's a potential for corruption or otherwise that we interject and go out there and remember that these people were given a trust by the public and we want to make sure that nothing happens to undermine that trust."
Special Agent in Charge of the Houston Federal Air Marshal Service Joanne Oxford says the agency takes the charges seriously.
"The two individuals in question, there employment status is pending at this time. I would just like to reassure everybody that the actions of these two men in no way reflect the true professionalism of the Federal Air Marshals who fly day in and day out quietly and professionally in protecting the American public."
The Federal Air Marshal Service was founded in 1968. Hundreds of additional air marshals were hired after the 9/11 attacks and are now assigned to commercial flights from 21 field offices across the nation, including one here in Houston.