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Man gets life for hiding drugs on jets

NEW YORK — The testimony at a federal drug-trafficking trial was chilling: Jurors heard how bribed baggage handlers at John F. Kennedy International Airport concealed cocaine on commercial jets inside sensitive wing-assembly compartments.

Saying the tactic risked the lives of passengers, a federal judge sentenced the convicted leader of the drug ring on Tuesday to life in prison.

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Victor Bourne, a former American Airlines baggage handler, was found guilty last year of charges he used his behind-the-scenes access at New York City’s busiest airport to orchestrate the smuggling of more than 330 pounds of cocaine from 2000 to 2009.

‘‘You personally exacerbated one of the nation’s greatest blights,’’ US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said at the sentencing in federal court in Brooklyn.

An unrepentant Bourne insisted investigators used ‘‘false evidence’’ to frame him.

‘‘How can I accept responsibility for something that I don’t have nothing to do with?’’ the 37-year-old native of Barbados asked.

The sentencing capped a federal investigation that has resulted in the convictions of 20 people — 19 of them airlines employees — and the seizure of large amounts of cocaine and the forfeiture of $6.9 million.

As leader of the crew, Bourne made millions of dollars that he laundered through business ventures in Brooklyn and Barbados, authorities said.

Prosecutors built much of their case against Bourne based on the testimony of six former employees of American Airlines who pleaded guilty to narcotics trafficking.

The jury heard evidence that Bourne bribed crew chiefs to assign his gang of corrupt baggage handlers to flights from the Caribbean.

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