Pilot Sues Over Dominican Drug Ordeal


A pilot snared in an apparent drug smuggling scheme is suing the Canadian government and his former airline for $16 million. Rob DiVenanzo alleges government officials and police suspected their flight was being used to fly $25 million worth of cocaine to Canada from the Dominican Republic but failed to intervene. DiVenanzo, along with four other crew, were arrested and held for seven months by Dominican authorities in April of 2022 when members of the flight crew discovered bags containing almost 500 pounds of cocaine stuffed in the avionics bay of their Bombardier regional jet.

DiVenanzo claims the Canadian government and Royal Canadian Mounted Police had been investigating the smuggling operation for two months before he and his crew were dispatched to fly the jet back to Toronto. He said the government and police “knew or should have known” the crew was flying into a trap but failed to do anything about it. He also claims his former employer, Toronto-based Pivot, didn’t vet the people who chartered the plane.

“I’m never going to be the same,” DiVenanzo told CTV News. In the suit he said he has suffered “significant” physical, emotional and psychological harm in the ordeal. The plane was already in the Dominican Republic when DiVenanzo and the others were flown there to fly it back. Security video showed an airport vehicle pulling up to the plane in the early morning and men pushing bags into the avionics bay. When DiVenanzo was preparing for the flight, a warning light for the avionics bay door prompted an inspection.

Shortly after the crew reported the drugs to local authorities and the RCMP, they were arrested and put in a cell with more than 20 hardened criminals. They stayed in jail for nine days, enduring physical and verbal abuse from inmates trying to extort money from them. When they were released the local government refused to return their passports, and they spent the next seven months in a series of safe houses awaiting trial. When a CTV news crew showed up and began asking questions, their passports were returned and they returned to Canada.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. “I’m never going to be the same,” said DiVenanzo, but $16M ($11,588,786.40 USD) will make him feel better. I believe he has grounds to file a legal claim. Best of luck to him.

  2. Not surprising. The RCMP have bungled everything for the last several years, add in the keystone cops of the Caribbean (the crew alerted them to the drugs!). Canada hands out millions to terrorists and pseudo spies, so why not this guy?

  3. I don’t understand why they were arrested, they reported the drugs. After the CCTV showed it was a ground crew loading the plane they were detained then not allowed to leave the country. Again I don’t understand what the Dominican Republic’s law enforcement was doing.

    • My guess is that the DR’s cops were trying to shift blame from the local boys (and the local criminal organizations) to the Canadians, i.e., foreigners. The pound of flesh is paid by the aircrew and the criminals go free.

  4. One would suspect that some of the “Authorities” were part of the smuggling operation.
    Holding the crew to divert attention from those who implemented the failed operation.

    • Whether they were part of the smuggling ring or were “encouraged” to look in some other direction, those “authorities” are almost certainly corrupted.

    • What! You haven’t seen the nutty things the Canuck Prime Minister has been doing? Maybe HE is the person they’re shielding by focusing on a poor flight crew guilty only of being in the wrong place at the right time? Someone in c eh n eh d eh had to be ready to receive the stuff.

  5. Wonder what ever happened to those who were caught on video loading the plane? Really lucky the pilot saw the door ajar light on and did an inspection and found the drugs. There’s always the chance too, that the door was left open just to implicate the pilot and crew, and throw suspicion off the bad guys. Maybe he will write a book about the whole episode!

  6. They videoed stuffers were probably history before the sun came up.

    500 lbs stuffed in the avionics bay of a CRJ is hard to believe but seems poetic that it was stuffed in the nose!

  7. I’m retired Airbus Capt. and when I was flying DFD to Bogota and returning the next night we had a small discrepancy on the Weight .. and a hazmat notice for carrying a small fire extinguisher. It was supposed to be empty and one sheet showed it weighed 12 lbs heavier than the other paper. 12 lbs . no bid deal …. that’s 5 kilos …… 5 kilos is how you buy cocaine in Columbia. So when we arrived at 0600 on a Sunday ….. DEA was there. They found 5 kilos of crack cocaine inside the fire extinguisher.

  8. Flying in and out of Bogota even on Military Aircraft we had to inspect closely. Turns out that after one flight there were packages shoved in areas of the wheelwells. Keep in mind this is/was supposed to be aboard military installations that were secured.

    I watched the CTV news even on Youtube the other night on this incident and there is no doubt this Gvt knew who planted that dope. I hope the entire flight crew becomes millionaires over this incident.