Federal officials say the problems at the plant, which makes the CH-47 Chinook helicopter and critical parts for the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, are symptomatic of the nationwide increase in the abuse of prescription opiates and painkillers.
According to court documents, the case started when Boeing security investigator Robert Fasold found crack pipes, bags of cocaine, and prescription pill bottles in the work area at the plant.
Boeing, which employs more than 6,000 people in Ridley, went to the FBI for help. Agents from the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration then set up sting operations.
According to testimony at a hearing in the case, agents were able to identify numerous other employees allegedly involved in drug trade at the plant.
FBI agent Raymond Carr testified that there was an "epidemic" of prescription-drug abuse among Boeing's workers during his investigation at the plant.
Boeing spokesman Damien Mills said he could not comment about any other individuals because the federal investigation and company review were continuing.
Rice said in a court filing that prosecutors presented "little evidence that any individual offender jeopardized national security by producing defective weaponry."
Some of the former Boeing employees testified that they became addicted to painkillers after injuries.
John Sullivan, an alleged seller who is awaiting trial, testified that he became hooked after dental surgery and a knee injury.
Sullivan said that on his first week on the job in 2009, he saw signs that many of his coworkers were abusing drugs. He estimated that a fourth of the employees in his work area were doing so.
He said that he had no difficulty finding a supplier at the plant and that he eventually began selling to support his habit.
The criminal involvement varied significantly from defendant to defendant, Rice wrote.
Andy Duris, 56, of Secane, a union shop steward who had worked for Boeing for nearly 30 years, was caught trying to buy pain pills. Rice said there was "no evidence Duris used the pills at work." He is awaiting sentencing.
Rice said Patterson was a regular drug user. One Boeing employee who was pushing drugs and later cooperated with the government testified that for two years he sold Patterson marijuana and painkillers.
In one drug buy, Patterson told the seller that if he got some cocaine, they could share it, Rice wrote.
"These facts reveal the extent of Patterson's criminal activity and the depth of his addiction while working at Boeing," the judge said.
After the investigation became public last year, Boeing and the union agreed to change the drug-testing policy, allowing screening for prescription drugs.
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