Two Houston-based pilots receive emotional welcome home after being imprisoned in Panama

Carl Moody (left) and Kenneth Chonoski were more than relieved to be back home.

October 24, 2012 11:13:57 PM PDT
Two Houston-based private pilots received an emotional welcome home after being imprisoned in Panama.

Kenneth Chonoski kissed his fiancee and Carl Moody hugged his tearful wife Wednesday afternoon at Bush Intercontinental Airport. The men spent the past year and a half in Panama accused of money laundering.

Inspectors said they found $2.3 million in the bags of one of their passengers, a Honduran traveler.

"It's a very dirty, dangerous, violent place and we're very, very happy to be out of there," Moody said of the prison. "Don't recommend it to anybody that's going to Panama to visit it."

The men spent seven months in prison but were forced to stay in Panama for a year before the case was dismissed last week.

American Jet International spokesman Bruce Hicks said 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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