Image: U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger, center, with FBI Special Agent in Charge, George Venizelos, left, and DEA acting Special Agent in Charge Vito Guarino speak about the raid at a Boeing plant near Thursday near Philadelphia.
Alex Brandon  /  AP
U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger, center, with FBI Special Agent in Charge, George Venizelos, left, and DEA acting Special Agent in Charge Vito Guarino speak about the raid at a Boeing plant near Thursday near Philadelphia.
By
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 9/29/2011 8:15:33 PM ET 2011-09-30T00:15:33

More than three dozen people have been charged in a prescription drug sweep that included a raid on a Boeing military helicopter plant near Philadelphia.

The arrests happened Thursday morning at the 5,400-employee plant in Ridley Park.

The drugs were bought and sold on Boeing property, U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Federal authorities say 37 people are charged with illegal distribution of a prescription drug. All but one is an employee or former employee of the plant.

Workers there build aircraft including the H-47 Chinook helicopter and the V-22 Osprey. The plant is part of the Defense, Space and Security unit of the Chicago-based Boeing Co. It is also the headquarters for its Rotorcraft division.

There was no evidence that the integrity of the work on any aircraft had been compromised, Memeger said.

"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," Memeger said.

Boeing spokesman Damien Mills said Boeing cooperated with the investigation and took steps to make sure the employees under suspicion were in no position to compromise the safety or quality of the aircraft. The U.S. military is the primary consumer of the aircraft, he said.

Twenty-three were charged in an indictment with illegal distribution of prescription drugs, including fentanyl, oxycodone and Xanax, officials told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"This wasn't an organized ring. It was a number of independent actors," said Memeger. "A number of independent sellers and no shortage of buyers were found by investigators."

The four-year investigation focused on sellers as well as users because of the critical role that these employees play in manufacturing military aircraft, Memeger told the Inquirer. Boeing officials brought their suspicions to federal agents and the company cooperated with the investigation.

The defendants allegedly either sold one of the drugs to an FBI "cooperator" or bought what they though were drugs, but were placebos, from the cooperator.

The employees charged in the case were suspended, Boeing said.

Boeing issued a statement saying it "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."

If convicted, those charged with distribution face possible sentences of 10 to 260 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines, the U.S. Attorney's office said.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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