HOUSTON, Jan. 29 (UPI) — Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., says two U.S. civilian pilots arrested in Panama got caught up in a botched sting by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The Houston Chronicle reported Saturday its sources say the pilots are victims of a DEA informant involved in illegal activity without the agency’s knowledge. The pilots, Kenneth Chonoski and Carl Moody, have been barred from leaving Panama since one of three passengers in the leased jet they were flying from Honduras was caught last May with $2.3 million that Panamanian authorities say was laundered drug money.
“He just got caught,” one source told the newspaper. “It appears it was an informant who was doing it without the knowledge of the DEA. They do that all the time. They play both sides.”
Issa, in a letter Friday to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who is expected to testify before Congress this week, said his information was that the DEA was using the informant in an operation.
DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden told the Chronicle Saturday the agency was not involved in the Panama case.
“The investigation, in fact, was initiated and conducted unilaterally by the Panamanian government,” she said. “DEA became aware of the incident only after being contacted by the Panamanian officials for assistance.”
The pilots, employed by American Jet International in Houston, are no longer in jail, but the Panamanian government has seized their passports. Their three passengers are behind bars, awaiting trial.
Issa is head of the House Investigations Committee, which is investigating Operation Fast and Furious, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operation that allowed guns bought in the United States to cross the Mexican border.