Panama drops money laundering case vs US pilots

HOUSTON -- Two Texas pilots who were arrested in Panama on suspicion of money laundering headed home for good Wednesday after authorities decided there is no case against them, their employer said.

Carl Moody and Kenneth Chonoski were arrested after landing in Panama in May last year. Inspectors said they found $2.3 million in the bags of one of their passengers, a Honduran traveler. The pilots were never charged with any crime.

American Jet International spokesman Bruce Hicks said a judge in Panama City dismissed the case against the pilots last Thursday and that a prosecutor determined they are innocent.

"These were two guys just doing their job (and) got caught up with something," Hicks said. "They have lost 18 months of their lives in the process."

The two are expected to land in Houston early Wednesday afternoon, Hicks said.

After initially imprisoning the pilots, Panama authorities freed them but ordered that they remain in the country pending an investigation. They were allowed to return to the U.S. twice to renew their pilot's licenses.

"They were allowed to leave Panama on their word that they would return, and they did," Hicks said. "These are two solid, stand-up guys who got caught up in somebody else's problem."

Attorney General Eric Holder addressed the pilots' plight at a congressional hearing earlier this year, denying claims they were part of a U.S. undercover operation.

Moody, who had been with American Jet International only a month before his arrest, has missed much while away, including his son graduating from Army Ranger school and being deployed to Afghanistan. Chonoski, who had been with the company seven years, had to postpone his wedding.

American Jet International has been paying salaries, legal costs, housing and other expenses for the two men during the ordeal.