Cocaine Cargo: Pivot Airlines Drug Bust Investigation

Earlier this year, this year a Canadian airline crew was detained in the Dominican Republic, after they reported $25 million in cocaine hidden in the maintenance bay of their aircraft. A documentary has been released about this case.

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Basics of the Pivot Airlines cocaine bust in Dominican Republic

In April 2022, Canadian charter airline Pivot Airlines was scheduled to operate a charter flight from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, to Toronto, Canada. Just prior to departure, a master caution switch went off in the cockpit, causing the crew to do a more thorough inspection of the aircraft. During this time, the crew discovered black duffel bags in the maintenance bay of the aircraft.

They alerted authorities immediately, and as it turned out, the bags contained over 200kg of cocaine, with a street value of around $25 million. For reporting this, the entire crew was jailed in the Dominican Republic for nine days. Once released from jail, they had their passports confiscated, and were put on indefinite house arrest.

Amazingly enough they were there for nearly eight months. They were never charged with anything and weren’t even questioned, but they just weren’t allowed to leave the Dominican Republic. That finally changed recently — after eight months they were allowed to return home and be reunited with their families.

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How did drugs get onto this plane?

Canada’s CTV W5 has done a thorough investigation into what exactly happened, and this past Sunday a documentary named “Cocaine Cargo” was released on this topic. The documentary is roughly 45 minutes. Now there is a much clearer picture of who might be behind the drugs. Here are some of the key points found to be most interesting:

  • The request for a flight charter was made by someone who claimed to be the chief financial officer for Trust Capital, which claimed to be a real estate investment firm; the claim was that a charter was needed for client groups coming from the United States and Dubai to the Dominican Republic
  • Pivot Airlines didn’t see any red flags, as there was a company logo, a working phone number, and even an address for a downtown Toronto office; the company wired the charter costs out of a Canadian bank account
  • Pivot Airlines did two charters for the company, and it was the second one where the drugs ended up being discovered
  • When the crew alerted authorities in the Dominican Republic about what was going on, they came to the aircraft, but only seized roughly half of the duffel bags with cocaine; the remaining ones stayed in the maintenance bay, and it wasn’t until the crew called authorities again that these were confiscated
  • Authorities in the Dominican Republic seemingly tried to take credit for this bust, claiming that they “inspected the plane” based on “intelligence reports,” which doesn’t accurately reflect that the crew reported this
  • A deeper investigation was done after the drug bust, and it became clear that Trust Capital didn’t exist; the CFO didn’t exist, there was no tenant at the address listed, the phone number had been disconnected, and the email bounced back
  • * About $150K of the charter fees could be traced to a man in Edmonton, who claimed to be a “real estate consultant,” and who refused to speak about his involvement in this case
  • Of the 11 passengers who had taken the two charter flights, four had criminal charges related to drugs, including drug trafficking, and all were Canadian (even though the claim was that they were from the USA and UAE)
  • Interestingly the Punta Cana Airport video surveillance had been tampered with, and 43 minutes of footage had been deleted; fortunately there was video footage from another angle, showing that shortly before 3:30AM the day of the flight, an airport vehicle drove black bags up to the plane, and then loaded them (amazingly enough this was discovered by one of the flight attendants who spent hours reviewing the footage)
  • On the day that the flight was supposed to operate from Punta Cana to Toronto, a manager at Signature Flight Support in Toronto had allegedly contacted Pivot Airlines’ CEO, asking him about the status of this flight, and saying that the plane needed to go in for maintenance the next day; the Pivot Airlines CEO found this strange, and had never had that happen before.

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Bottom Line

Over 200kg of cocaine was discovered on a charter flight from the Dominican Republic to Canada, leading to an airline crew being detained abroad for nearly eight months. It was assumed all along that they had nothing to do with it (after all, they reported it), and it seems certain that this is correct.

An investigation has shown that a fake company was behind the charter, and several of the charter guests have drug trafficking charges. Furthermore, the duffel bags were loaded onto the plane in the middle of the night, and airport surveillance footage was even tampered with to cover this up. Then in Toronto, one airport worker was allegedly very concerned about the status of the flight.

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