By Lisa Maria Garza
DALLAS (Reuters) - Nearly 50 people, including four contract workers at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, have been arrested or charged on suspicion of trying to bypass airport security to fly drugs across the country, officials said on Wednesday.
Several of the group of 46 caught in a sting operation appeared at a federal court in Texas on Wednesday to face charges relating to distributing heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Texas.
The investigation, a joint effort among the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dallas Police and the Internal Revenue Service, looked at deals to transport drugs on flights heading to Las Vegas; Newark, New Jersey; Phoenix; Chicago; Wichita, Kansas; and San Francisco, it said.
One of those charged, Funaki Falahola, in April 2013 told an undercover agent he could transport drugs on a major airline by using his contacts at four airports to sneak contraband past security.
In one instance, federal agents provided Falahola with a backpack they said contained four kg (8.8 pounds) of cocaine. He then worked with others in the ring to fly what was actually fake drugs to Las Vegas and handed the backpack to another undercover agent, the indictment said.
Lawyers for the group were not immediately available for comment.
In a statement, Dallas/Fort Worth Airport said it was aware of the undercover operation and cooperated with law enforcement officials.
"None of the people named in the indictment is employed by DFW Airport," it said.
The indictment did not give information on what jobs the four contract workers did at the airport or provide details on how the group bypassed security.
Those indicted on drug-trafficking conspiracy charges face up to life in prison if convicted.
(Reporting by Lisa Maria Garza; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Eric Beech)