FBI agents raided a military helicopter factory outside Philadelphia Thursday morning and arrested three dozen people for the illegal distribution and attempted possession of prescription drugs, including the powerful painkiller Oxycontin.
The Boeing Rotorcraft Systems plant in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania makes the H-47 Chinook and the V-22 Osprey for the U.S. military. All but one of those charged are employees or former employees, said Zane Memeger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
"This investigation and prosecution focused not only on the sellers, but also on the users because of the critical role that these employees play in manufacturing military aircraft," said Memeger, who said the arrests were the result of an undercover four-year investigation conducted by the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Memeger said the arrests are also signs of a growing social ill: "Prescription drug abuse has been on the rise in our community, and this is just one example of how pervasive the problem is."
The drugs allegedly being sold on site included the synthetic painkillers fentanyl and oxycodone, also known as Oxycontin. Twenty-three people were charged with distributing the drugs, while another 14 were charged with buying what they believed to be prescription drugs from an undercover FBI agent. All but one of the 37 people charged have been arrested.
The distribution of Oxycodone carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a maximum $1 million dollar fine. Each count of attempted purchase carries a one-year maximum prison term with each count.
A federal law enforcement source told ABC News that the sellers inside the plant did not constitute "an organized trafficking ring, just individuals supplying other individuals for personal use." Boeing contacted the FBI, said the source, which brought in DEA.
The federal probe began after a tip from Boeing. "An internal Boeing investigation determined that potentially illegal activities were being conducted by certain employees at the Philadelphia Boeing facility," Boeing spokesman Damien Mills told ABC News. "Boeing reported the company's findings to federal law enforcement officials and cooperated fully with the subsequent investigation and interdiction."
"Boeing commends the U.S. Attorney's Office, and other federal law enforcement agencies for their rigorous and thorough investigation, throughout which we took appropriate steps to ensure safety of our employees and the absolute integrity and quality of the products we produce for our customers," Mills said.
Three years ago, production at the 5,400-employee plant was shut down when an employee sabotaged a Chinook by cutting electrical wires. The employee pleaded guilty to destroying property.
Just last week, on Wednesday, July 23, Boeing employees, politicians and military officials celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Chinook helicopter with a ceremony on the factory floor at the Ridley Park facility. An Army officer praised the Ridley Park workers, saying that while soldiers didn't know the employees, "They know . . . there are great Americans back here building a system they have confidence in."